India needs to invest in smart productivity tools to experiment with a 4-day work week

India’s push for productivity has gotten even worse since the onset of the pandemic as people worry about how they are making the most of their working time at home. But the question remains: has that improved productivity?
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Who said that a complete workweek must be five days? What if less is more?

Bestselling author and scholar Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book ‘Shorter: Work Better, Smarter, and Less – Here’s how’ puts forward a strong case for working less, and shows us how many organisations can actually stand to gain from giving their workers more free time.

In the past few years, companies and governments around the world have been debating, testing, and exploring the possibilities of working four days a week or working fewer hours without reducing pay. Recently, the results of a multi-sectoral pilot in Iceland caused a sensation.

For more than four years (2015-19), it has been found that employees have shown greater happiness, better work-life balance, increased efficiency, and productivity, with lower stress, anxiety, and cases of burnout in the workplace. Similarly, Spain, New Zealand, Finland, Australia, and several other countries have achieved overwhelming success after switching to a shorter week.

Is India ready to join the bandwagon?

A while back there was speculation that the Indian Government, under the new labour laws, would introduce a provision wherein the organisation could allow employees to work four days a week. However, the working hours limit of 48 hours would remain inviolable.

While that still has to see the light of the day, it opens up many interesting permutations in the work week that organisations can play with, whether they are 4 days a week and 12 hours a day, or 5 days a week and about 10 hours a day, or choose to work for 6 days a week and 8 hours a day.

While the scope of increasing flexibility of working hours seems to increase the bigger questions are around how will organizations actually enforce and monitor these changes.

Another possible alternative is to look at implementing a shorter week with reduced working hours. However the fact remains that we live in a society that believes in the fact that long working hours mean greater productivity. In other words, overwork is treated as a badge of honour.

In fact, a report by the International Labour Organisation highlighted that the Indian workforce, which is the world's most resilient workforce, is also the most overworked and underpaid in the world.

To some extent, this push for productivity has gotten even worse since the onset of the pandemic as people worry about how they are making the most of their working time at home. But the question remains: has that improved productivity?

More work in less time

Various studies have shown that working for long hours week after week can reduce productivity and foster burnout. A study conducted by economics professor John Pencavel from Stanford University found that when a person works more than 50 hours a week, productivity per hour drops dramatically. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that investing any more hours would be pointless.

Another global survey presented by The Workforce Institute at UKG indicated that nearly half (45 percent) of full-time workers worldwide say it should take less than five hours or less each day to do their job if they work uninterrupted, while three out of four employees (72 percent) would work four days or less per week if pay remained constant.

In a series of interactions conducted by UKG with many industry leaders in India, it has been argued that a shorter week with reduced working hours and a staggered approach will benefit the Indian economy as it will allow the workers to recharge their minds and upskill themselves, and in turn, become more productive.

Also, people would have more time outside of work to manage the rest of their lives, so non-work responsibilities were less likely to interfere on the workday.

At a time when organisations prepare their plans for the future of work, when businesses are debating the value of physical office space, when hybrid models of remote working are likely to persist in the wake of the pandemic, when work and life has got enmeshed with no defined boundaries, it is all the more important for organisations to rethinking productivity and working hours.

A digitally native and data-driven approach based on workforce analytics will help employers figure out how more work can be done in less time. It will also provide them penetrated visibility on how their workforce performs against goals and benchmarks.

Although working four days a week has many benefits, it will be difficult to implement this format if the company lacks the right support, technology, and workplace culture.

In India, some corporates are reluctant to implement compressed work formats because they believe that longer working hours will generate more profits.

In this regard, leveraging workforce technology and advanced automated solutions coupled with smart productivity tools to assess overtime, availability preferences, and operational scheduling can help employers maintain high productivity levels and simultaneously ensure the mental well-being of the dynamic workforce and dispel the myth that longer hours equals more productivity. 

We have enough evidence, stories, and data insights from all over the world to illustrate how this shortened working time will liberate people from an always-on burnout culture. It’s time to start asking questions about everything we think we know about work starting with how long we need to do it, and stop assuming that the current way of working is the best that only exists in for only a decade or two.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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