Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

What’s The Length of An Ideal Work Week?

The first few months of office after the pandemic have made both employees and employers realise the importance of a satisfying job profile with independent, flexible work hours. The number of hours does not matter.
May 17, 2022
Ideal Work

From July 1, the government of India may shift to a different working and wage style. The labour ministry is in the final leg of clubbing 44 central labour laws into four broad codes of wages, industrial relations, social security and occupation safety, health and working conditions. Once implemented, the new wage code will influence working hours, salary restructuring and provident fund contribution, encashing of earned leaves and other benefits available to employees.

A major change likely under the new labour laws is the number of workdays in a week – likely to be four days instead of five. As the work hours will still be 48 hours – in accordance with the Factories Act, 1948 – employees will have to work for 12 hours a day instead of eight hours to gain their three weekly offs.

This year, the UAE did something similar. On 1 January 2022, the UAE’s federal government adopted a four-and-a-half-day week with Saturday and Sunday as full days off. Government employees in the country now work from Monday to Thursday with a flexible half day on Friday. With the move, the UAE has become the first country in the world to introduce a national working week shorter than the global five-day week, as part of its efforts to boost work-life balance and enhance social well-being.

Offices Post Covid-19

The two years of the pandemic saw a sudden and disruptive shift to remote work culture. It led to exhaustion from prolonged emotional and mental stress and eventually to resignations, which have surged rapidly across the globe since 2021.

There have been attempts to stop the exodus. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on May 17 said that the company is almost doubling salaries in an attempt to stop great resignation. He told employees in an email that Microsoft “nearly doubled the global merit budget” and it is allocating more money to people who are in the middle of their careers.

Most the corporates, from global brands like Airbnb to homegrown start-ups like Zerodha, still follow the remote work culture, as it gives employees flexibility and makes the work target-oriented than clock-oriented.

Surveys are done to find reasons behind the Great Resignation led to observations that most job seekers aspire for new challenges due to exhaustion and stagnancy. They also want to move to more stable jobs. An interesting finding from the Amazon India survey conducted in September 2021 said that over 50 per cent of job seekers look for opportunities in sectors or industries where they have little or no experience.

Analyses done on Great Resignation found toxic work culture, job insecurity and lack of reorganisation, high levels of innovation, failure to recognise employees and poor response to Covid-19 to be other factors making workers quit.

Workers want flexibility, making most companies, from global brands like Airbnb to homegrown start-ups like Zerodha, follow remote and hybrid styles of working.

A new hybrid working survey shows that employees want flexibility based on their autonomy to exercise it in whichever way is best for them. Autonomy is a key driver of human motivation, performance and fulfilment and is important for workplaces to remain competitive in the hybrid future, the survey adds.

India Versus the World

The International Labour Organization (ILO) says, regulating work hours is one of the oldest social concerns. And, after two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and amid increasing pressures on the classic “9 to five” business model – from zero-hours contracts to telework – voluntary negotiations known as “collective bargaining” have taken precedence, insists ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Quoting a new report by the UN labour agency, Ryder shared that over one in three employees in 98 countries, currently have their wages, working hours and other professional conditions set by collective agreements.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ILO’s Social Dialogue Report 2022 indicated that collective bargaining agreements had helped to protect people’s jobs and income.

Flexible working arrangements and leave provisions were negotiated during the period so that workers, particularly women, could balance work with additional care responsibilities relating to school closures or to unwell family members,” said Ryder, adding, “And workers on temporary work had their contracts extended or converted to permanent ones so that they could maintain their earnings.”

The benefits of these collective agreements are many, from equal opportunity, integration of on-site and remote work practices, re-regulating working time to a right to disconnect and addressing shared concerns of workers and employers over cybersecurity and data privacy.

Working Hours, Productivity, Life

All the above benefits lead to job satisfaction, further productivity and zero attrition, said academic Thomas Lange in an interview. The report also includes WageIndicator Foundation’s salary survey data (2014-2017) for India, which found that 46 per cent of respondents dissatisfied with job security were also unhappy with their jobs, while 67 per cent of respondents satisfied with job security were content with their jobs.

The precarity of work is a major concern, said Ravi S. Srivastava in his paper, Myth and Reality of Labour Flexibility in India. The 2016 paper said that growing flexibility makes room for greater work-life balance, more income streams, fewer costs and increased resistance to unionisation in companies through contractual agreements between employees and employers.

However, the flexibility has also led to increased uncertainty of work, as these contracts do not factor in healthcare, insurance, housing allowances and other forms of social security measures. The problem has become more noticeable during COVID-19 with lockdowns leading to a marked increase in flexible remote work models.

A category of workers here is gig workers, whose numbers have swelled in past few years. This section again does not have a job and social security. However, being an important part of the economy, the Centre plans to formulate a policy for them.

Target Over Hours

The silver lining of the pandemic years has been that the offices – even the government – became more target oriented than being clock run. “Work from home led to better work output in some cases,” accepted Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Dr Jitendra Singh in a statement on January 20. “Target-oriented work culture with flexible timing is behind the better work output,” he reasoned.

Led by such observations, human resource (HR) observers suggest reinventing work – by destroying the clock, forgetting the four-day workweek and focussing on results. A glorious example cited is Elon Musk, who once bragged about spending 120 hours a week in the Tesla factory which made him “bonkers.”

The other example cited is Iceland, where an experiment conducted between 2015 and 2019 found that reducing work hours while keeping pay the same increased productivity.

Currently, a four-day work week trial is being tested in Spain, says an analysis. In Japan, companies are advised to permit their employees to work four 10-hour days. Scotland has also announced a policy to cut working hours by 20 percent without a decrease in pay, says a report.

Companies have also been piloting projects based on a four-day work week. In 2018, Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand company reduced weekly hours from 37.5 to 30 and allowed employees to decide what days they would work. Microsoft reported a 40 percent rise in productivity when it gave its 2,300 employees in Japan Fridays off in August 2019, said Reuters article, for individual “deep work” away from meetings or calls.

Lesser office hours led to better employee engagement and well-being said a Gallup survey. It found that employees working six days a week indicated the highest rates, i.e., 38 percent, of burnout, followed by those working five days per week, 26 percent, compared with 23 percent of those with four-day work weeks.

In addition, those working four-day a week were found to have the highest rates of thriving well-being (63 percent) than those working five (57 percent) or six days (56 percent).

The Gallup survey concludes the debate nicely, by shifting the focus to “meaningful work,” an essential part of “a life well-lived”.

The survey calls the real problem to be poor management of workers, with most employees (eight in 10 globally) not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. These people are either watching the clock or actively working against their employer. The unhappy workplaces, thus, fuels their desire to escape work.

Given that flexible timing is the most desired perk among employees, and with the increase in hybrid work models going forward, it makes more sense to use this facility to achieve targets, and upskill them further to take up newer, better roles and be more accountable.

Ideal Workplaces

So, what decides a perfect job? A 21-hour week, free hot drinks, £44,000 salary, a short commute and a supportive boss, says another study. Another pitch is of 38 hours.

A study from the World Health Organization (WHO) and ILO looks it differently, advising against increasing it to more than 50 hours a week — an unfortunate case with India, where employers make their workforce work more for lesser pay, at times with o medical or social cover.

In the May 2021 report, the UN agencies found that working an average of 55 hours or more each week increases your risk of stroke by 35 percent and your risk of dying from heart disease by 17 percent, compared to an average of a 35-40-hour workweek.

The WHO researchers add to this pressure the additional work stress of our non-stop lifestyle. The study found that 48 percent of employees reported feeling rushed for time, and 52 percent felt significant stress due to this rush.

Jyoti Verma

The writer is a media professional based in Delhi. She has been writing on diverse subjects, including sustainable businesses, environment and climate change, health and education and others.