Putting Infosys founder Narayana Murthy’s ‘70-hour work week’ idea into perspective | Data

Comparisons with higher productive nations beg the question if India needs to increase productivity through use of technology rather than taxing labour

Updated - October 31, 2023 04:59 pm IST

Published - October 31, 2023 09:30 am IST

 Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy

Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy | Photo Credit: Deepak KR

Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy recently said that young Indians must work for 70 hours a week. The comment has been met with support from some and criticism from others. The comments were made in the first episode of a video series published by 3one4 Capital titled ‘The Record’.

Also read | Why Narayana Murthy is wrong about the 70-hour work week 

Assuming a six-day work week, Mr. Murthy’s comment means that Indians would have to work 11.5 hours a day. How many hours does an average young Indian work at present? According to the Time Use Survey conducted in India in 2019, a person aged 15-29 spends over 7.2 hours a day in employment and related activities in rural areas and 8.5 hours a day in urban areas. A State-wise comparison of the time spent on work in urban areas, given that this figure is higher than in rural areas, is presented in Map 1. Urban Uttarakhand ranks first, with young people from the State working for an average of 9.6 hours a day, which is about two hours less than what Mr. Murthy envisions.

Map 1 | The map shows the average number of hours an urban Indian aged 15-29 spends in a day on employment and related activities

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Assuming that if people work for five days, they would have to work for 14 hours a day, a point to ponder is whether working more hours translates to better productivity. Mr. Murthy raises this point in the video series. “India’s work productivity is one of the lowest in the world. Unless we improve our work productivity… we will not be able to compete with those countries that have made tremendous progress,” he said.

He pointed to the examples of Germany and Japan to drive home this point. “You know this is exactly what the Germans and Japanese did after the Second World War... they made sure that every German worked extra hours for a certain number of years,” he said.

A comparison of annual working hours per worker and labour productivity in India, Germany and Japan is presented in Chart 2. The chart shows that the average annual working hours of Germans and the Japanese peaked after the war at about 2,200 hours to 2,400 hours a year — about 8.3 to 9 hours  a day during a five-day work week without holidays. This is still 2.5 hours less than what Mr. Murthy’s envisions.

Chart 2 | The chart shows the annual working hours per worker and productivity (GDP/hour worked) in $/hour.

More importantly, as labour productivity increased in Germany and Japan, two countries that were relatively more industrialised even before the Second World War, the average working hours reduced drastically to about 1,400-1,600 hours a year by 2020 (5.3 to 6 hours a day), as shown in Chart 2. Labour productivity is measured as GDP per hour of work. India’s average annual working hours stayed above 2,000 from 1970 to 2020, while the labour productivity increased marginally from $2 per hour to $9 in the same period. So, the question is, is it better to increase working hours or to increase productivity through technology?

This is because longer work hours translates into less time for sports and leisure. As shown in Chart 3, when compared to Germany and Japan, Indians spend less time on sports and other leisure activities. Indians spend more time sleeping and doing housework than the other two nations.

Chart 3 | The chart shows the average number of minutes spent on various activities per day.

While opinions are divided over Mr. Murthy’s suggestion, it is imperative to ask whether India has enough statistical tools at its disposal to accurately measure labour productivity given that 89% of the workforce is engaged in informal employment compared to just 4.2% in Germany and about 8% in Japan (Chart 4). With such a drastic difference in the nature of the labour force among the three nations, do they make for a viable comparison?

Chart 4 | The chart shows the share of informal employment in the total workforce for the latest year with data (in %)

With inputs from Rebecca Rose Varghese

nihalani.j@thehindu.co.in and vignesh.r@thehindu.co.in

Source: Time Use Survey 2019, Our World In Data, International Labour Organization

Also read | Mental health and the floundering informal worker

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