BELIEVE it or not, a recent global survey puts Japan at the lowest for employees’ well-being. Boy o boy that is some pasting. At a mere 25 per cent, it is at the bottom of the charts. Imagine a country that was ravaged after World War 11, had two atomic hits and no economy to talk off, becoming an economic superpower by the late sixties-early seventies, now tottering with an ageing population and a deeply unhappy workforce. That’s the cycle of life for you.
Topping the list of the best countries in terms of caring for employees is Turkey at 78 per cent followed, surprisingly by India at 75 per cent. Conducted by McKinsey Health Institute, the survey assessed employees’ physical, mental, social and spiritual health before putting together the honours’ list.
Strangely, though, the same report reflects Indian respondents as stating that Indians had the highest burnout symptoms rate at 59 per cent, followed by Saudi Arabia at 36 per cent, Egypt and Chile at 33 per cent each. How ‘wellbeing‘ and ‘burnt out ‘ go hand in hand is a bit of a riddle. Specialists, though, suggest that this has less to do with workplace satisfaction and more to do with the long hours that most Indian employees put in.
‘’Indians are already among the hardest workers in the world, averaging 47.7 hours per week per employed person, according to International Labour Organisation data updated in 2023. In fact, if compared with the 10 biggest economies, Indians have the longest average work week.
India ranks seventh in the global ranking with only Qatar, Congo, Lesotho, Bhutan, Gambia, and the United Arab Emirates averaging more. So much so, that ILO is reportedly planning a special India-specific report on working hours,’’ Business Today reported.
Actually the ILO report and the McKinsey Health Institute survey can be considered as interesting coincident to which one can add the widely reported comments by Infosys Founder NR Narayana Murthy in a conversation with his former Chief Financial Officer(CFO) TR Mohan Das Pai for a podcast called The Record: “India’s work productivity is one of the lowest in the world, so therefore, my request is that our youngsters must say, ‘This is my country. I’d like to work 70 hours a week.” Elaborating, Murthy said Japan and Germany had become great nations because this was their regime after World War 11. “They made sure that every German worked extra hours for a certain number of years.”
So where lies the truth? Are employees well looked after? If yes, then why such high burnout? And is it only because they work so hard? The answer is a bit complicated. For starters, the McKinsey Health Institute clearly spent time with the best and the brightest in India, the big guns of India Inc. where policies are well laid out, employee benefits have shot through the roof over the past few years, thrive on a standard five-day week and a nine-ten hour workday. There is little burnout here. They are the category that holidays overseas, gets their kids to the Ivy League, examines EV options at over a crore and prefers to change their phone at least once a year.
There is a large category that already does 70-plus hours. Their productivity is phenomenal, but their well-being is hardly ever discussed. They travel from Pune, Nasik, and Meerut to the big metros spending two hours either way on transport and nine-ten hours on the job. They have no time to think of holistic health. Their life is a whizz trying to make both ends meet.
To this category, one can add, the lakhs of highly insecure workers who deliver your swiggy order, your Zomato pizza and your Amazon packet. What category do they come under? Does Mr Murthy, Mr Pai or the McKinsey Institute know how hard they work, how tough the conditions under which they work and how high is their productivity?
Sucheta Dalal who runs the highly respected Moneylife has in a YouTube video dissected beautifully the huge chasm that separates the 70-hour gig from the 50-hour gig. Those who do 70-plus hours are the backbone of this country, they make sure that India is moving and the 50-hourwalla is in comfort. That’s the irony; if only Mr. Murthy could understand that and the McKinsey Institute could decipher it.
It is not that Indians don’t work seventy hours. Hundreds of thousands do. But they are not getting any better off for doing that. It isn’t giving them anything. It is only helping the 50-hourwalla lead a more holistic life.