UAE Switches to Four-and-a-Half-Day Work Week, Can India Follow Suit?

Will Indians opt for a four-day working week, if they have to work 12 hours each day, instead of 9.6? 

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Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Camera: Athar Rather


(This video was first published on 9 April 2021 and is being reposted in light of the UAE switching to a four-and-a-half-day working week.)

Don’t we Indians just love overworking, even when it comes at the cost of our own mental health? No wonder that the average Indian works 52-53 hours every week – that’s 2,544 hours every year.

In a sense, an individual in India ends up working almost five hours more than the International Labour Organization’s rule that caps weekly working hours at 48.

This means that over a period of one year, an individual in India works 240 hours overtime.

No wonder then that the ILO’s global wage report 2020-21 says that India ranks the fifth in the world for long working hours. But, what if you get an option to work just four days and get a three-day weekend to unwind?


Can a Four-Day Week Increase Productivity?

In February 2021, the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment said that under a proposed labour code, companies could be allowed to have four, five or six working days, while mentioning that the weekly working limit of 48 hours was ‘sacrosanct’ and would not be changed.

But is the idea of a four-day work week with three week-offs viable from a productivity point of view?

In 2019, Microsoft Japan conducted an experiment where it allowed its entire workforce of 2,300 people to take Fridays off for five weeks in a row.

As a result, productivity increased by 200 percent and employees took 25 percent less time off.

The same was replicated by Beroe India, a global market research firm around four years ago and the company saw encouraging results. Anand Narayan, VP, Marketing, HR & Administration at Beroe India, said that although the number of working days were reduced to four, there was no increase in working hours or reduction in salary.

“Over the last four years our productivity has gone up 200 percent, our employee satisfaction has gone up to 4.3 on a scale of 5 and attrition has gone down one-third of what it was. It has been a great ride,” he added.


Can India Work 12 Hours for Four Days?

While Beroe India reduced the number of working days without increasing working hours per week, the same is not true of the guidelines proposed by the Union Labour ministry.

As mentioned earlier, the ministry is merely giving employers the option of choosing between a four, five or six-day work week, without reducing the 48-hour weekly limit.

This means that an employee who earlier worked almost 9.6 hours for over five days, may have to clock 12 hours every day if her company allows a four-day work week model as an option. 

Experts said that a 12-hour shift isn’t feasible as it would barely leave any time in the hands of the employee and would also cause major problems in transport and other factors required to travel to and from work.

Salil Lal, Division Head, HR, of Maruti Suzuki says that since the company runs a car manufacturing facility in cycle, there's no way it can bring down the work week to 4 days.

“Twelve hours of one shift would be difficult. Continuous operation for such a long time is not possible. We have to give breaks, which is part of the mandated requirement. There are practical difficulties that people will face as our employees come from all corners of NCR,” he said.

But some employers think otherwise. Chetan Yadav, CPO of Tally Solutions, said that although his organisation may not necessarily adopt this policy, a four-day work week can definitely help operations in heavy companies.


Questions That Remain

Most companies in India cannot follow a 4-day week. But, if not four days, then can it be a five-day week? Especially, when a majority of employees in 2020 said they were facing a crippling 'overtime pandemic’?

  • A five-day work week would require everyone to sincerely work for 9.6 hours every day. But then again, can it be of any use if 77% end up stretching their work days to six days?
  • Can employees really be unburdened when six out of 10 join official calls or respond to work-related messages beyond their working hours?
  • On the flip side, can employees be at their efficient best and not idle away at work?

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