Like most newly-appointed CEOs of a troubled company, Modi obviously has a lot to do and is in a race against time, says Shyamal Majumdar… But are 18-hour workdays and a permanently punishing schedule for himself and his colleagues the best way to go? The jury is out on that in the human resources fraternity… Given the huge task before him, a better option for Modi could be to take the 80/20 route – the path that takes the least effort but gives you maximum results…
Asked how he would cope with the Prime Minister’s diktat of an 18-hour workday, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, 42, flashed a sheepish smile on prime-time television a day after he was sworn in. The main problem, Rijiju said, is that while Narendra Modi is up and running at 5.30 a.m. even after working till well after 1 a.m., he, Rijiju, is a habitual late riser and, therefore, has to make a lot of adjustments. That’s a huge understatement since by the time he finishes his 18-hour workday, Rijiju would barely have time to jump in the shower and collapse into bed, before starting the whole routine all over again, about six hours later.
Another junior Minister in Modi’s Cabinet gave a glimpse of the Prime Minister’s hectic pace. Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said she got a call from Modi at 9 in the morning asking her to meet him in 10 minutes. “I left whatever I was doing and simply rushed because I know the PM doesn’t like latecomers,” she said in a TV interview.
Like most newly-appointed CEOs of a troubled company, Modi obviously has a lot to do and is in a race against time.
But are 18-hour workdays and a permanently punishing schedule for himself and his colleagues the best way to go? The jury is out on that in the human resources fraternity. Many consultants draw parallel from the corporate world to say while a CEO should be a hard taskmaster, he has to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise, such a CEO is referred to by his colleagues as a slave-driving psycho.
Those who have worked under a boss with over-the-top demands know what it’s like to suddenly become a miracle worker when they hear the words, “Just get it done – fast!” Suddenly, the pressure of turning a pumpkin into a carriage within seconds burns heavy in your gut. The idea is to avoid a culture that venerates overwork because in such an environment, people internalise crazy hours as the norm. Grinding out 100-hour weeks for years helps people think of themselves as tougher and more dedicated than everyone else.
Over time, the simple fact that you work so much becomes proof that the job is worthwhile, and being in the office, day and night, becomes kind of a permanent ritual.
While many leaders – both political and corporate – strongly believe overwork is a credential of prosperity, the latest data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show working harder has nothing to do with working better. For example, the Greeks are some of the most hard-working in OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But their productivity is about 70 per cent higher.
In 2012, each waged employee in South Korea worked for 2,092 hours, which was 420 hours more than the OECD average. The number was 1,334 hours for the Dutch. But labour productivity per working hour in Korea was $29.75 against the OECD average of $44.56. For the Dutch, it was $59.73.
Also, research all over the world has shown how long hours diminish both productivity and quality. Among industrial workers, overtime raises the rate of mistakes and safety mishaps; likewise, for knowledge workers, fatigue and sleep-deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level. For example, many top-flight investment bankers who used to work up to 120 hours a week for a shot at obscene wealth, were found to suffer from depression, anxiety, and immune-system problems, and performance reviews showed that their creativity and judgement declined.
No one is saying we follow Robert Owen’s famous campaign to have people work no more than eight hours a day. His slogan was “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” But it’s also a fact that those incredibly long days aren’t sustainable and, therefore, it’s perhaps time to ask a better question: are we working smart instead of just working hard?
For, there is no point in finding yourself in a state of being where everyone feels chronically short of time and tends to perform each task faster and, in turn, gets flustered when faced with any delay.
Such people move like a launched missile throughout the working day, in the hope that the boss would be mighty impressed with their permanent state of busy-ness. The danger is that the CEO would end up with a bunch of multi-tasking, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding zombies, who are always banging the lift button without realising that it will only stop working. Given the huge task before him, a better option for Modi could be to take the 80/20 route – the path that takes the least effort but gives you maximum results.
The key is to make sure you are doing less of what adds only marginal value (most likely 80 per cent of your current tasks) and focus instead on doing better whatever generates the majority of the value you add (the other 20 per cent). To find the time to do this, don’t even try doing your marginal value tasks. Instead, focus on your key tasks and drop everything else. Bertrand Russell had said long ago that working less will guarantee “happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia”. That may be a utopian thought in today’s fast-paced world, but Modi and his Ministers could replace the word “less” with “smart”.