As country manager – India for UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), Sumeet is responsible for the vision and execution of UKG’s long-term strategy and growth in the Indian workforce management market. Sumeet joined UKG (earlier Kronos) in 2007 as a solution consulting and business development manager — and the third employee working in India — before bringing his business development expertise to his role as the head of marketing. There, he led the India marketing organisation to build a sustainable channel and alliance network in the region. In his most recent role he headed sales for the India region. Prior to working with UKG Sumeet held marketing, sales, and business consulting roles at companies such as Aditya Birla Group, Oracle, and Tata Consultancy Services.
Q.1 What are your thoughts about the current work culture in India? Why does it need to be changed?
With the onset of the pandemic, the standard 9-to-5 work culture that has been around for is slowly giving way to a hybrid working system with remote working a key component. Remote-working or ‘Work from Home’, as we usually say, is not a new concept and existed before pandemic as well, but did not get much attention or consideration at that time. According to a 2019 report on the Future work by SHRM India and UKG, which was even before COVID-19 happened, work flexibility was the top emerging trend. The pandemic has merely fast-tracked this allowing us to restructure the whole working ecosystem of the country and giving us opportunity to experiment with ‘Work from home’ culture. It empowered employees to make more flexible choices about working conditions, allowed them to be more focused, independent, resulted in better attendance and punctuality and saved commuting time and expenses.
Although the switch to working from home have provided much-needed flexibility, the negative aspects of this practice – isolation, reduced collaboration, and burnout – have already emerged. Several industry reports show that employees are working longer, spending unlimited time in virtual meetings, having to stay active on more communication channels and are more likely to work on the weekends. This in turn could affect their productivity and efficiency, We anticipate that people are going to want to continue with this work flexibility, even as they continue to struggle with sufficient face time for in person interactions. Hence, it’s critical for companies to develop a digital-led hybrid work environment embedded with advanced workforce management tools that provides enhanced engagement, collaboration, and communication while ensuring better productivity, employee well-being and healthy work-life balance.
Q.2 Will the decreased work duration lead to more productivity, hence improving the overall quality of Work?
There are several studies that show that overwork and extended work hours, will only lead to employee fatigue and burnout. One study from Stanford University conducted by John Pencaval, an economics professor, found that when a person works 50 hours a week, productivity per hour drops. The concept of shortening work hours has been with us since the 1970s, although it has received a lot of attention due to the recent pandemic with employees feeling overworked as a consequence of a blurred distinction between work and personal life. Interestingly, in 2018 the Workforce Institute at UKG ran a study on whether a four day work week would make sense and 78 percent of full-time workers said it would take less than seven hours each day to do their job if they could work uninterrupted, with nearly half (45 percent) saying their job should take less than five hours per day. Today we increasingly see organizations experimenting with this concept like Ford Motor Company and Microsoft in Japan and most of them are reporting lower stress and higher job satisfaction. In fact, Microsoft Japan saw a 40% productivity increase in their sales per head. Not only that, they also saved electricity bills and paper copy costs. France is one of the developing countries with the highest hourly productivity because it offers 35 hours of work per week and 36 days of paid annual leave. These examples just show that reducing weekly work hours leads to higher productivity and better determination.
Q.3 Please share your thoughts about working 4 days a week? How will it affect the employees and the employers?
Over the past few years, many countries are exploring the possibilities of the 4-day work week format where they are working for 4 days in a week with reduced working hours, and have witnessed an overwhelming success. When speaking from employee’s perspective, the shorter week turned out to be a boon for many as it allows employees to have more time for upskilling, in turn making them more productive. Coming to the employer’s perspective, if they have a productive workforce that is following a smooth and more efficient flow of work, they will have better results in terms of achieving goals and profits faster than before. If your employees are not redundant to work, they will provide better business results without hampering their personal lives. Additionally, it will also help companies in decreasing the infrastructural costs and other expenses.
Q.4 What role will technology play if working 4 days a week is implemented in India?
Advanced and automated productivity tools that track, manage, and control employee time and attendance can help optimize the 4-day work week more effectively. Digital transformation including AI and Data Analytics can support timely access to information, enabling better, faster, and deeper decision-making processes in the organization. A synchronised technology model can easily accelerate business operations and increase productivity. With the help of innovative workforce management solutions, organizations can experience significant performance improvements, cost reductions, and increased workforce participation, thus contributing to effective results from working four days a week.
Q.5 What challenges will India face while implementing the 4 days of work a week?
We live in a society that is obsessed with long working hours and some companies in India are still reluctant to work even 5 days a week, let alone 4 days, from their existing 6-day week because they believe that longer working hours will bring more profits. In other words, overwork is treated as a badge of honour. If the country lacks the right support, technology, and workplace culture, it may be difficult to adopt a 4-day workweek format.
Another challenge that comes up is that India is an outsourcing country. The foreign counterparts of India prefer it to outsource because of the highly skilled workforce and ‘round-the-clock’ services that will get affected if we implement a four days a week system. According the same 2018 survey conducted by The Workforce Institute at UKG, India led an image of the hardest working country, with 69 percent of full-time employees claiming they have to work five days a week even if their work requires lesser days. Coming to the biggest challenge that Indian business sectors are going to face while adopting the new provision is the synchronization of schedules within their departments and with other industries.
Currently, some workplaces have five working days while some have six days. Also, this format may not apply as easily to services-based sectors like a BPO or a Bank which requires availability for a set number of hours. A 4-day week trial conducted by the US state of Utah for government employees saw some fantastic environmental results as employee and employer benefits but experienced a poor customer satisfaction. The reason of their dissatisfaction was they were unable to access government services with offices close on Friday. These disparities might create chaos in functioning and balancing the idea of four days’ workweek in India.
Q.6 Will working 4 days a week have some ill effects on the workforce? Will it increase the pressure on the employees?
While the 2018 global survey by The Workforce Institute at UKG indicated very positive results for organizations for a 4-day work week, the fact remains that in this day and age, customers are increasing expecting on-demand services and organizations cannot afford to reduce the working hours of the firm. Such companies who need to run 24×7 operations or have tight production plans will require staff to be available for longer periods.
If the individual works lesser hours as a result of a 4-day work week, it will need to be compensated by more staff to handle the extended hours of the firm and unless productivity can be increased significantly, there will certainly be a cost impact. It could also result in wages being cut down proportionately in line with working hours as the hours worked per week would reduce with a 4-day week. Alternatively, there could also be a risk of increasing the daily hours beyond the current 8-hour norm so as to meet the weekly 45-hour target and that might not be a good approach as well as it could impact fatigue adversely. In India, many workers especially migrant labour are actually happy to work extra hours to increase their earning capacity and hence not all sections of the workforce would actually welcome a 4-day work week. It’s quite a common practice across India to see security staff work 12 hour shifts per day. Organizations will also have to plan their shifts better so that customers are not impacted by the non-availability of staff. Hence while working four days a week has many benefits, it will be difficult to implement this format if the company lacks the right support, technology, and workplace culture.
Q.7 What will be the major changes in the industry post the implementation of 4 days of work a week?
Over the years, several experiments were conducted in different countries to test this system, which gave a positive outcome of higher productivity and increased efficiency. Hence, we can also expect optimistic results once this system being practice in the Indian workforce environment. But in the short term there could definitely be a cost impact and hence advanced workforce management system will need to be deployed at scale and accessed from anywhere, anytime to make this format a more manageable experience where employees feel rewarded, and companies can also ensure compliance with labour laws as well as the right productivity. We also have to consider this an opportunity to bring about efficiency with the workday and remove administrative tasks through automation in exchange for more impactful ones. Four days’ workweek will build more opportunity to innovate, collaborate, develop skills and relationships, and serve customers while opening the door to creative scheduling options. The biggest change would be the mindset of the Indian work culture where productivity is proportionate to the numbers of working hours. Now that we have the power to choose how, when, where and how much to work, managers should be supportive of an employee’s professional and personal life. When employees get time to rest, they become more productive, creative, and are healthier, meaning they take fewer sick days. This, in turn, builds the productivity of the company and the individual.