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Ankur Jain

Ankur JainIt was found that Indians work for 8.1 hours every day, more than the average figure for the entire developed world and individual countries like the UK, Australia, France, Italy and Germany.[1]

It’s quite common for employees in India to work beyond the scheduled working hours, on weekly offs and sometimes from home as well. With cut throat competition at the workplace many employees are keen to put in extra hours to stay ahead of other colleagues. Unfortunately in many companies employees staying late are still revered and performance is measured in terms of hours spent at office. Quite often it’s a domino effect with managers staying late and subsequently employees also staying back.

While it is understandable that employees may have to work late once in a while, what could be the reason for this continuing state of affairs?

Is it because we are inefficient or is there something more to it?

There is a deep cultural basis for this observable trend[2]. The chart below depicts scores of India on the six cultural dimensions as advocated by Hofstede.

India on the six cultural dimensions as advocated by Hofstede

The two dimensions pertinent to this article are Power Distance and Indulgence:

Power Distance: Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. India scores high on this dimension, 77, indicating an appreciation for hierarchy and a top-down structure in society and organizations.

  • Do you receive calls from your manager after office hours?
  • Do you sit in meetings scheduled after working hours?
  • Are you asked to cover for an employee when you already have a lot on the plate?

The answer to all the above questions for most of us is a resounding YES. Sometimes we do it willfully at other times with dislike, but we never say NO.

The Indian society has a hierarchical structure with power centralized with the head of family. Right from our childhood we are taught to respect elders and abide by their instructions. Most of our life decisions are dictated by them, there isn’t much respect for our choice or independent thinking. These ethos and values become part of who we are and transcend to our working lives as well. So when we are faced with a situation where a senior asks something from us it becomes very difficult for us to say NO even though the task may be quite unreasonable and beyond the call of duty.

Structure in Indian organizations is a spitting image of its societal counterpart with a top down structure. Power is centralized and managers expect explicit obedience of their team members. The rigid chain of command prohibits employees from taking decisions without authorization. Managers do not appreciate negative feedback or retaliation from the team. Hence, relationship between both the parties is formal. Due to this many employees resort to obsequious behavior to appease seniors.

Indulgence: This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained. India receives a low score of 26 in this dimension, meaning that it is a culture of Restraint.

In a society of restraint, people are less likely to lay emphasis on leisure and control gratification of desires.

So what could be the implication of this on the work culture in an organization?

Employees are likely to work longer hours, take fewer leaves, save more. They are likely to hold back negative feedback to themselves. Employees may sacrifice their personal lives in order to jump ahead of the queue for promotions, raise, etc. The genesis of this kind of behavior can be traced to the culture and upbringing in the society.

INDIA has a healthy domestic savings rate of more than 30% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This demonstrates a propensity of saving for future and avoiding immediate indulgence of desires. As large percentage of the population belongs to poor or middle class, most of the people are either not able to afford things they desire or prefer saving for impending requirements, exigencies. Indians are also likely to save more for long term needs like retirement, education of children, etc.

The aspiration of most parents in India is that their child should either become an engineer or doctor. Competition for the elite institutions is fierce with millions appearing for examinations every year. Nearly 1.5 million students sit for IIT JEE examinations every year for less than 10,000 seats at IITs. The competition is equally intense in other examinations like AIPMT, AIIMS, CAT, CA, IAS, etc. In order to clear these examinations most of the students lock themselves up for two to three years giving up on their hobbies, interests, socializing with friends. A significant part of adolescent life is lost in this hope for a bright future.

The society in which we grow and our upbringing play a significant role in shaping our behavior at the workplace. Organizations are evolving and becoming more flexible in terms of structures and work schedules. Many have adopted five day working, work from home, telecommuting and other innovative strategies to engage and motivate employees effectively.

However changing organization policy is the easier part, moulding people’s behaviour however is a much more challenging task.

  • Leadership in organizations must lead this change. Executives should walk the talk by leaving office on time. Adherence to office hours should be encouraged and performance should be measured in terms output
  • Organizations should strive to move towards horizontal/flatter structures reducing intermediary levels. They should encourage employees to speak up more without fear of victimization
  • HR should encourage employees to take their allotted quota of leaves in a year. Research has shown employees who don’t take leave are often the most burned out, unproductive lot in the office

With more and more millennials joining the work force power structures are likely to get more decentralized and informal open channels of communications will be used more frequently. As technology gets more intertwined in our lives, it will play an even more significant role in shaping our workplace behavior in years to come.

[1] A similar result was also obtained in the 2016 Manpower group survey of 19000 millennials conducted across 25 countries in which again Indians came out on top clocking 52 hours per week on average.

[2] refer to Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory

(Author works as an Deputy Manager Assurance in ASA & Associates LLP.)

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14 responses to “A traditional perspective: Why Indians work long hours?”

  1. Bholanath chatterjee says:

    Fantastic article and good analysis & graphic presentation also,we are almost regularly staying in office beyond office hours and almost 365 days we have to come at any cost without any extra remuneration, tremendous nepotism practice also are in practice.

  2. Goutam says:

    well said.
    It is the usual course of action we come accross.

    However, I know a few organisations where lightings are automated to get switched off after 6:15 pm and swipe card system do not allow any employee to enter before 10:00. However, it do not applies to manager, but consequentialy managers too try to get target within stipulated time frame.

  3. Prachi says:

    Well said and explained.. still working in Office.. 😀

  4. Jeevarethinam says:

    Really, It shows the Indian work culture and practice at present. Boss or employers should develop Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in cleaner manner to all categories of employees and continuously review and set standard to bring outcome of employees instead of long hours. Even day to day schedule has to be designed by the Boss and extract the employees more productivity. Boss or Managers must have specialized skills or learn new and share to your subordinates. So that they really respect you and consider as boss for ever. WORK SMARTLY. Pls.don’t work for pleasing your boss. You will not be an Key/Asset of any other organisation when you walk out from the company. Need to manage your day-to-day time and try to spend time for your family members too.

  5. R. Marwah says:

    Well said.
    Further after the computer age coming in, the top management felt systems are becoming autonomous and staff could be reduced. To the extent the medium levels started getting pressure further with the change of Companies Act and other Acts, the compliances started increasing leading to pressure on this level for completion of things within the time frame. Therefore with the new Statutory Laws and the pressure of employees already increased due to reduction of staff has made the lives of medium level employees miserable in India.
    Further the supply of laptops by the Company to them has required them to be available 24×7.

  6. narayanan says:

    very much true. I am working in government organization. generally there is an impression that government officers never attend office in time and/or leave office early. it is not true. like any other private organisation officers here are also working after office hours just to please their bosses. As rightly said in the article it is the indian culture to obey the seniors/elders force us to do this. Every body, even when they pretend to be courageous to talk to their boss, frightened and have an anxiety in their sub conscious mind regarding the opinion created about them by their boss. Any how an excellent article to read. Congratulations.

  7. dinesh patwari says:

    truly right

  8. Anil Chauhan says:

    I think the article deserves credit for highlighting a realty in Indian business environment and time is ripe that we all change our mind sets.I worked in India and abroad and come to conclusion that unfortunately Indians do not know how to manage time and are still in slavery mode.I am happy the young generation is changing this.

  9. Ravi says:

    This is my response to working beyond the working hours. My response is based on my observation from the last 25 years.

    1. In a private company like us, there are different depts, which are inter dependent on each other. A delay in one process leads to the delay in others. Naturally, some staff stays beyond their usual hours.

    2. There are two categories I noticed, one is the privileged and are recognized more and the others are the real workforce. The first category staff are casual and they work exactly to the working hours and more paid if they work beyond working hours. There is no choice for the 2nd category except to extend.

    3. Management team expects only customer satisfaction, which is very much needed, but don’t try to resolve many issues which a team manager face the problems.

    There may be other reasons as well.

  10. Mitali says:

    Brilliant!! a good read.

  11. KANNAN RAJU says:

    I have worked for 40+ years in different settings, i.e., Family owned company, professionally managed Indian Company, Diplomatic Mission and for 20 years in a Japanese MNC. What I have observed is that Indians always think about tomorrow and forget to live their present day life. They do not manage proper work-life balance and do not share quality time with their families. Another problem is that even the best qualified professional remains a YES man to his boss and never show the courage to say what his/her conscience is telling. It is high time Indians learned to behave in a professional manner and also show the courage to say NO when it is required. We should live for today first and think about tomorrow later. We should give utmost importance to our families as otherwise whatever we achieve in our professional field will not serve any purpose. Children need the attention of parents until the teen age. Therefore, we need to spend quality time with them on a daily basis. By the time you find time to spend with your children, they would have grown up and they will not be interested in spending time with the parents. My advice to the younger generation is that live your life well, don’t be unduly worried about tomorrow. Your first priority should be your family. Love your work but don’t fall in love with your Employer. If you spoil your health both physical and mental, your Employer is not going to stand by your side, it is only the Family which will be loyal to you. Money is required for leading a good life but one cannot just live for money alone.

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