70 hours a week – a serious health hazard 

N R Narayana Murthy

The Chairman of Infosys Shri N R Narayana Murthy seems to have forgotten the popular poem that was taught to us during school days  ‘The Cry of the Children’, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, dedicated to the condition of children in England who were made to clean chimneys and work for long hours in hazardous industries. As a result many would catch serious diseases and eventually die an early death. The poem examines children’s manual labour forced upon them by their employers. It was published in August 1843 in Blackwood’s Magazine. Charles Dickens too has written about the hard labour the children were forced into in England in the mid 19th century. But since then England has moved far ahead. All the children go to school, get proper nutrition and healthcare required of them. These writings of the legendary personalities are however applicable to all categories of the workers whether doing manual or white collar job. Mr Narayana Murthy has asked the youth to consider India as their own country and that they should put in 70 hours of work per week for the progress of the nation.   

This proposal needs to be analysed from various angles; the trade union angle, health angle, social angle and from the angle of impact of technological developments on production. As a result of long drawn struggle workers were able to get legal right to eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and the rest eight hours for recreation and the family.  

The Trade Unions have rejected 70 hours of work per week as it is clearly against the internationally accepted time framework for the workmen. According to  International Labour Organisation (ILO), people in India spend maximum time on work but are paid the least; meaning thereby, that there is too much exploitation of the workers and violation of the law. This is applicable to the organised as well as the un-organised sector. Just to quote an example, staff working in the catering services in the special trains like Shatabdi Express and Vande Bharat spends almost 18 hours on work per day on a meagre salary. There are millions who are working in sweet meat shops or the Gig workers who spend similar number of hours on work every day. With the advent of new technological developments, the companies’ production has increased many fold, so is their profit but the gains have hardly trickled down to the workers.  

It is equally important to study the health impact of excess working hours. It is a well-accepted fact that productivity increases if workers are healthy and happy. An exhausted person can never give better production. They are also liable to have more accidents and make mistakes. Our organism is unable to be productive for 8 consecutive hours, notably because of what is called the “circadian rhythm”, that is to say, our daily biological cycles. How our body reacts during the day depends on many factors: our hormones, our diet, our exposure to daylight. Scientists studying these issues have found is that we have a very specific biological rhythm. Thus, we are more productive at certain times of the day, intellectually and physically speaking.  So this affects all working manually or on the screens as many young people are doing these days (1).  

Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire (2). 

According to an article “Are Shorter Working Days The Secret To A Happier, Healthier And More Productive Life?”, published in Youmatter on 25th September 2017, being in the office for more than 8 hours a day is associated with poorer overall health and with a 40% higher risk of developing heart disease or stress related diseases (1).  

Scientists generally agree that the ideal daily working time is around 6 hours, and more concentrated in the morning.     

According to a study published by Insurance Journal, overworking increases the risk of being injured by 61 percent, as well as the risk of having chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.    

Research also reveals the damage to our physical health that overwork can cause. A study from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that working an average of 55 hours or more each week increases your risk of stroke by 35 percent and your risk of dying from heart disease by 17 percent, compared to averaging a 35-40 hour workweek (3).    

Overworking has a Negative Effect on our wellbeing Burnout and Stress in the Workplace. People who work long hours are twice as likely to have a major depressive episode, according to a study, especially if they work more than 11 hours per day (4).      

Workplace culture is crucial for keeping employees motivated and satisfied. It’s important to create a positive environment and encourage the employees.  

The decision makers must realize that without a healthy workforce working in a conducive environment and guarantee of safety and health, productivity will be hit badly which will be detrimental to the interests of the country, the society and the employers.     

Mr Murthy should realise that it is not the excess working hours that matter for productivity but it is the happy healthy person working in a conducive environment who can increase the productivity. It is important to know that there are millions looking for a job in our country whose services need to be utilised through proper planning.  

Mr Narayana Murthy should have instead talked about workers’ wages as per the inflation and they should match the real profits of the companies. He should have exposed those who are evading taxes and not paying back loans taken from the banks as a result of which the NPA of the banks has increased to 25 lakh crore rupees in the last 10 years. 


  1. https://youmatter.world/en/schedules-working-days-productivity/ 
  2. https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-ideal-work-schedule-as-determined-by-circadian-rhythms  
  3. https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo  
  4. https://www.beforesunset.ai/post/how-many-hours-in-a-week-should-you-work 

Dr Arun Mitra is a Practicing ENT Surgeon in Ludhiana, Punjab. He is also the President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) www.idpd.org


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