Why is India still on a six-day working week?



I was working in the office on Sunday when a journalist telephoned a contact and said in a loud voice: “I don’t want to call him on a Sunday, as I know he has a life and a family, unlike us journalists, who don’t….so….”

And it struck a chord. Why should a journalist not ‘have a life?’ In fact why should any employee not have a life? After all, we work to live, not the other way round. Don’t we? Then as I went onto my email that night, an advert flashed up on Rediffmail saying: ‘Heart attack cases in India to double by 2015. (PTI Rediffmail).’

Then I thought about the people I know in Mumbai, in a variety of professions, and everyone seems to be working weekdays, weekends, 24/7. Since when was that normal?

And it got me thinking. India, or at least, Mumbai does not understand the concept of a work-life balance.

The only people that seem to ‘have a life’ in Mumbai  are the struggling actors and models who sit in Café Coffee Day all day, alongside the college students.

Where is the understanding of hobbies for employed professionals? By that I mean taking up an interest, that has nothing to do with your work, and pursuing it passionately outside work? It could be learning a foreign language, amateur theatre, gardening, script-writing, creative writing, learning about the stock market, whatever. Evening classes in the UK are packed with people doing such things. When I meet someone  I want to know what else they do beyond their job.

What about married couples? How often do they see each other? It is no wonder some married people in Mumbai are having affairs.

Now, statutory maternity leave in India is three months. In the UK it is one year (nine  months paid).

How can a mother possibly return to work after three months (and that is assuming she worked right up to the day she gave birth) – since she would still be breast-feeding then? Why do white-collar mothers in India have to be punished and forced to leave their careers when many have put so much into them and are very talented?

In Sweden and Norway you get 16  months paid maternity leave and in Germany, Estonia and Bulgaria, Spain  you get three years unpaid leave as well.

Another problem working mums face in India is there are no qualified childminders or nannies, and crèches are not state regulated, leaving working mums with no option other than to leave their children with an unqualified maid or their in-laws.

Many countries offer paid paternity leave or the right of parents to share maternity leave.

There is also a worrying culture here of not using privileged leave and accumulating it as cash. It’s madness. Why would you not want to use your leave and go off and see the world, or at least visit your relatives and friends in other parts of India? I have been travelling since I was two and been to most countries in the world because I always avail of my leave.

Is the reason to impress the boss – that wow, you are such a loyal employee you don’t take leave? Is there a social pressure on employees not to take vacations? What an odd boss to be impressed by that? How can someone be good at their job if they never relax and never take leave…? What knowledge of the world would they have? How would they be able to “connect” with say, a foreign client? Incidentally connecting with a whole range of people, from all walks of life, is especially important for a journalist. The worst journalists, in my opinion, are those who never meet anyone, never go anywhere, just sit at their desk all day – on google.

A journalist out and about is far more likely to get stories and be able to network successfully. Who knows they might find a story on the beach in Barabados – and even if they don’t, that holiday will somehow help them grow as a person, and probably as a writer. The same applies to people in every profession. Maybe next week a businessman who went to Barbados on vacation will do business with someone from Barbados and  that holiday will help create common ground.

If your job involves entertaining clients, you need knowledge of films, books, countries – otherwise how can you have interesting conversations with your clients? Who knows what business contacts you might make in the amateur drama group? Business is all about building relation ships.

The six-day working week needs to be abolished in India. Perhaps you would argue that this will lead to a slowdown and the reason the west is in decline is because they have a five day working week. But there was a time when the west boomed on a five day working week and I don’t think it is the reason for the current downturn – that can be blamed on the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the scale of credit taken in the US.

Why is a six-day working week the norm in India? I don’t know any other country where this is the case. In the rest of the world it is five days.

In India the average person works an 11 hour day six days a week = 66 hours a week !! Compare that to France where a 35 hour week is mandatory.

The Japanese are renowned workaholics and  have been working themselves into the ground for decades  hence the word ‘karoshi’ or death by overwork. Maybe Indian companies should look at Japan and take lessons of what not to do from them.

As for people that employ drivers, nannies and cooks for seven days, they should be ashamed of themselves. How can anyone be expected to work seven days, week in , week out? This should be made illegal.

“It is not enough to have a colourful office with balloons hanging around to ensure the work environment is stress-free,” says Sharit Bhowmick, sociologist with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who writes about workplace pressures.

He has a point.

The solution is that the Indian Government brings the whole nation down on to a five-day working week, as France has done, and also makes a seven day working week illegal.

Then Indian private companies should start implementing work life balance policies such as:-

-       Offering childcare financial assistance and/or  on-site crèches

-       Giving staff free membership of a company health club

-       Compelling people to take a holiday

-       Flexitime – offering flexible start and finish times provided the employee works the core hours

-       Job share/part -time working

-       Paid paternity leave

-       Relocation – allowing employees to relocate to any branch  in India or overseas to suit their personal circumstances e.g. if they get married

-       Self managed working – employees manage their own working pattern and time to deliver outputs

-       Allowing staff to work from home

-       Term-time contracts – offering contractual working hours during school terms only and allowing parents not to work during school holidays

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