Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Hours in a day vs Days in a Year: Should India Inc re-think annual leaves?

A recent interview by Infosys Co-founder NR Narayana Murthy sparked debate about the way we measure productivity. Instead of tying employees down to 70 hours a week, would it help if we reduce the number of holidays we are given in a year?

Samidha Jain
Published: Oct 30, 2023 11:15:53 AM IST
Updated: Oct 30, 2023 01:13:17 PM IST

Hours in a day vs Days in a Year: Should India Inc re-think annual leaves?Corporate employees in India do not work for about 150 days, which is about 41 percent of the year. Image: Shutterstock

Let’s talk math. A back of the envelope calculation shows that there are 52 weekends in a year which corporate employees get as an official off. That’s 104 days out of 365 (assuming it’s not a leap year) in a year, leaving us with 261 days.

Then there are three national holidays—Independence Day, Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti. That brings us to 258 working days. From this, remove five major festival days such as Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Dussehra, Holi, and it leaves us with 253 working days. Add to this other leave provisions, such as privilege leaves, casual leaves, relocation leaves etc, and it would seem like corporate employees in India do not work for about 150 days, which is about 41 percent of the year. Festival holidays are perhaps inevitable in a diverse and culturally rich nation like India, but do so many of them make us less productive?

This seems more compared to other developed countries like the US, where apart from 104 weekends off and excluding the mandatory annual casual, sick and privilege leave allocation, there are only 10 to 12-odd days of federal holidays.

In a recent interview that created a debate among corporate Indians, Infosys Co-founder NR Narayana Murthy said that India stands extremely low on productivity and young Indians should aspire to work 70 hours a week. Where on one hand entrepreneurs such as Ola’s Bhaavish Aggarwal and JSW Group MD and Chairman Sajjan Jindal seconded Murthy, expressing their views on social media platform X, others such as UpGrad Founder Ronnie Screwvala disagreed by saying “Quality of work done > clocking in more hours.”

But what if, instead of asking employees to work 70 hours a week, we re-look at the number of annual days off that they take?

Akshay Varma, one of the founders of the eco-friendly consumables company Beco, is of the opinion that since India has a larger and more diverse employee base, as compared to nations such as the US or UK, the number of holidays seem reasonable. However, he also thinks that productivity has less to do with working hours or days. “I strongly feel that the productivity of an employee has less to do with the time they spend on work, it is more about the employee’s commitment and motivation. Today it is very common to see people take an additional leave when there is a holiday on a Thursday or a Tuesday to make it into a “long weekend”. Things like these can reduce productivity in most cases as it can break the flow of working of an organisation and reduce overall productivity.”

Also read: Four-day work week: Is India ready for it?

In corporate India, leaves differ sector-wise too. For example, a number advertising agencies in India provide their employees with a week off between Christmas and New Year, with respect to the fact that most ad agencies have incredibly long working hours and expect their employees to work on some weekends as well. This is true for the Indian tech sector, some government based organisations, media houses etc.

Murthy’s words hinted at the hustle culture that is prevalent among employees around the world, which emphasises hard work and long hours as the key to success. It’s become increasingly popular recently, with many companies encouraging their employees to put in extra effort and work hours for better results. The topic has been in debate for a few years, and many psychologists and employees too have spoken about the adverse impact of the same on their mental and physical health.

Shantanu Rooj, founder and CEO, TeamLease Edtech, the employability wing of HR services company TeamLease disagrees with Murthy in terms of the need for employees to put in long working hours. He believes that holidays are part of Indian culture and provide opportunities for people to team up, celebrate together and engage in non-routine activities which improves social bonds, reinforces cultural values and refreshes a person bored of a routine life.

Also read: Four-day work week brings no loss in productivity

“Holidays help employees maintain a balanced life that has a positive impact on human psychology and motivation thus impacting productivity positively.”

Rooj thinks that having had a few intense work days, the human brain needs to disengage and rest, and holidays provide that rest reducing an employee’s stress. “I think Indian employees get enough holidays that help prevent burn-outs, improve happiness which culminates in employees willing to take new responsibilities, learn new skills and better face new challenges at work.”