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Designed image of Suraj Singh Gaur and Chitra Gupta working with elements of work and home life in the background
The new way of working could help employees reduce stress levels and increase productivity. Photos courtesy: Pexels, Chitra Gupta, Suraj Singh Gaur

Mental Health

Will a Four-Day Work Week Help Change India’s Toxic Work Culture?

Some can foresee a future, not too far away, where work does not consume their lives.

Chitra Gupta, a senior marketing manager at a Bengaluru-based firm, takes her weekends seriously. She relaxes with family, gets her chores done, indulges in cooking and catches up with friends, and her Netflix watchlist. When she gets the rare long weekend, the 31-year-old, who is used to getting client calls at odd hours, plans out how best to utilize her precious time off. But from this month, every weekend is a long weekend for Gupta as her firm introduced a four-day work week.

Her organization isn’t the only one. Many companies are looking at the four-day work week as a new approach to facilitate a better work culture and give employees a chance at balancing work and personal life. It has even found some backing by the government, which recently green lit new labour codes that allow businesses to have flexible working days — four days a week — while maintaining a limit of 48 hours of work a week. 

We cannot ask people to work four days a week and not change the minimum hours.”

This new approach will be almost revolutionary for the Indian way of working, which traditionally glorifies longer hours and hyper-productivity, rather than optimal usage of resources. 

So, will a four-day work week bring about the change we want to see in our work culture? Or will it lead to further exploitation of workers? 

According to Sanjay Singhvi, a labour law advocate from Mumbai, it will only lead to more exploitation. “We cannot ask people to work four days a week and not change the minimum hours. 48 hours in four days translates to 12 hours a day, which is a violation of our labour laws that dictate that employees cannot be made to work for more than eight (or in some cases nine) a day, without overtime pay,” he told Re:Set. 

But if the number of work hours were to be reduced, the four-day work week would be more productive, as is seen in the U.S., New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden. 

New Zealand-based trust and estate-planning firm, Perpetual Guardian, found that employees took fewer sick leaves, spent less time in meetings and on social media, and were less distracted, as they were given more autonomy to meet their deadlines and get an extra day off in the week. 

A study by Stanford University showed a direct correlation between the number of hours worked in a week and productivity. According to the study, employees working four days a week actually maintained their productivity levels with an increase in job satisfaction and decrease in stress levels. 

Image of Chitra Gupta working on her laptop with a quote from her, next to her, that says: "Just the thought that we have an extra day off helps us cope mentally. It relaxes us and makes us work harder on the rest of the days.”. Photo courtesy: Chitra Gupta

Many companies are looking at alternative work systems since the pandemic started to help employees manage their well-being. Photo courtesy: Chitra Gupta

In India, too, the idea seems to have caught on. Beroe Inc., a market intelligence firm in Chennai, implemented the four-day work week in 2017. “The idea behind trying this was to increase productivity and employee engagement and decrease attrition,” Anand Narayanan, vice president of HR and Marketing at Beroe, told Re:Set. After a three-month trial, the results were better than expected. “Our output at the end of the quarter was up by 50%, attrition rate was down to single digits, and productivity saw an incredible improvement,” Narayanan said, emphasizing that trusting employees and creating a productive work environment was key to this success. 

Bringing systemic change

But the biggest cause for concern for Beroe, and most other companies, is the effect it would have on clients. Which is why, one of the steps Narayanan took was to explain to Beroe’s clients the firm’s new work culture. “We came up with a system, where one employee from each department is on call on Fridays, in case there is an emergency or an urgent client call. ” 

However, implementing a four-day work week is a different ballgame for industries like hospitality, media, banking, and public-sector undertakings and government offices, where employees often work seven days a week. 

Suraj Singh Gaur, an advertising professional based in Pune, said that while a four-day work week sounds more wholesome, it would not be realistic for his field of work, which involves dealing with big brands and high-profile clients. “The world of digital marketing never sleeps. Everything depends on our clients, who call us over the weekend on a regular basis, too,” he told Re:Set, adding that the only way this would work is if there was a systemic change. 

A study by Stanford University showed a direct correlation between the number of hours worked in a week and productivity

Despite the challenges in implementation, the four-day week has its advantages. “While we do end up working for a few hours on our day off, just the thought that we have an extra day off helps us cope mentally. It relaxes us and makes us work harder on the rest of the days,” Gupta said. 

This particular advantage has become even more important since the pandemic started, with companies having to resort to work from home and longer work hours, which has led to high levels of stress with many experiencing burnout and mental health challenges. Work from home has also brought into focus the extra burden of balancing a work and home life for many, especially women

A flexible work schedule helps in bridging this gap, Narayanan said, and many of his employees have found that getting an extra day off helps in managing household responsibilities and resting. 

While the number of work hours as per the new government initiative needs to change, and the fact that this is not a one-size-fits-all situation, a four-day work week can still be seen as an opportunity to change India’s toxic work culture. With renewed focus on how smart we work rather than how long we work, some can foresee a future, not too far away, where work does not consume their lives.


Also read: I Quit My Job Because of COVID-19


 

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Will a Four-Day Work Week Help Change India’s Toxic Work Culture?