We will be covering the following:
- The general history of work.
Essentially a reflection into how we got here.
2. Work today and the future.
An overview of how technology and automation is redefining the workspace as we know it and how countries around the world are dealing with it.
3. The future of Work in India.
Where India stands today and why an exploration into this particular vertical here in India is important.
A Reflection — Fundamentals.
So how did we get to the 5/6 days work week?
Out of the seven days, originally six days were for work and a single day was given off. The day off was religion or region-specific — Friday for Muslims, Saturday for Jews and Sunday for Christians. The US pioneered the 5-day work week due to companies giving Saturday off to let Jewish workers adhere to the Sabbath and then Sunday for Christian workers. A lot of companies in the US started adopting this and eventually, it spread globally. Here, in India, many companies follow a 6-day workweek, a legacy bequeathed to us by the British (more on this later).
And why is it 8 hours/day, not 6 or 10?
During the Industrial Revolution, the average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was an astounding 100 hours. To keep the factories going 24/7 the average worker had to put in 14–16 hour shifts.
August 20, 1866: A new organisation named the National Labor Union asks the US Congress to pass a law mandating the 8-hour workday. Their efforts fail but inspire Americans across the country to support labor reforms.
September 3, 1916: The US Congress passes the Adamson Act, a federal law, to establish an 8-hour workday for interstate railroad workers. The Supreme Court gives the act constitutional recognition in 1917.
September 25, 1926: Ford Motor Company becomes the first major company to adopt a 5-day, 40-hour workweek.
June 26, 1940: A provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek comes into effect in the US; a 2-day weekend is adopted nationwide.
In the decades that followed, as the world became more globalized, an increasing number of countries adopted either a Friday-Saturday or Saturday-Sunday weekend so as to sync with international markets and stay within the religious requirements of Christians, Muslims and Jews.
A Reflection — India.
For centuries, India has predominantly been an agrarian society. Work through the day from sunrise to sunset, all seven days in a week was common practice. Traditional festivities were occasions when people took a break from work and engaged in recreation.
Later, during Islamic rule in the middle ages, Friday (or Jummah) gained prominence. The royal courts were closed as the Sultan and noblemen offered prayers, while other government duties remained suspended for the day.
Industrial Revolution & British colonialism:
By the mid-18th century, Industrial Revolution had set in mainland Europe and UK. Factories and employment grew considerably in the manufacturing sector, making labour an important commodity. Men worked for 14–16 hours a day, through all 7 days. There was little or no flexibility for women and child labourers. Rising trade union movements and labour law advocacies played important roles in persuading local governments to reform labour practices.
One landmark achievement in the UK was to get an amendment in the Factories Act 1850 (famously called the ‘Compromise Act’). Sunday working was abolished for mill workers, a privilege which till then was enjoyed only by government employees.
Norms of the new Factories Act 1850:
No. of work-days a week — 6
Off-day — Sunday
Working hour per day — Monday to Friday: 10.5 hr & Saturday: 9 hr
Maximum work hour per week — 60
While the Industrial Revolution in Europe set the pace for economic growth, people-centric regulatory frameworks introduced in the UK and elsewhere also improved the living and working conditions of workers. Unfortunately, the same was not true for the newly colonised world in the Indian subcontinent and the Far East.
By the 17th century, European traders had already anchored at various ports along the long Indian coastline. Cochin, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta (present-day Kochi, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata) evolved as prominent trading hubs. As the Europeans increased their influence on trade, they started dictating terms on the monarchies across the country and gained large tracts of land, where European settlements, factories and ports cropped up. Goes without saying, soon, the factories, mills and mines were mechanised and run on native labourers, mostly drawn from nearby farms and working them beyond 16 hours a day, with no holidays.
It was only in the late 19th century and the early 20th century that some reforms were brought in against rising trade unionism. The first Indian Factories Act came into force in 1891 to address the working age and conditions of children, but it was not until 1911 that an amended act was enforced to reduce the working duration per day to 12 hours, with a single weekly off.
Post World War I, in 1922, with recommendations from International Labour Organisation (ILO), the maximum weekly hour for an adult worker was brought down to 60 hours.
A revised Factories Act of 1948 (independent India) further reduced this to 48 hours per week and 9 hours a day, as the maximum permissible working duration for an adult worker in India.
1990s — 2000s (BPO + Service Industry):
In 1991 the government decided to adopt a new framework for economic growth — Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization (LPG) — opening up to global markets, corporates and technologies, and promoting private sector investments.
Multinational corporations made a beeline for India, attracted by the vastness of the market and availability of cheap manpower. Soon, with the global IT revolution of the 90s, India evolved into one of the most important links in the global IT services ecosystem. More and more American and European firms shifted their software development, customer relationship and telemarketing practices to India — a country with a large English-speaking base and quality IT talent that thinks in English and codes in English (one of the major reasons the same didn’t happen in China).
While the Indian Factories Act of 1948 lays down stringent guidelines for blue-collared workers, there is no regulation in place that is all-encompassing and covers the welfare of white-collared executives in the private sector.
BPO employees often complain of “extended hours of work” with odd-hour shifts (‘graveyard shifts’) to match the working time of businesses in America, Europe and Australia. Studies conducted on employees have found them often suffering from a wide variety of physical and mental ailments due to stressful and sedentary work environments.
Where are we today?
To ground us, let’s do some quick Math / गणित around our average Government employed worker here in India today. Although they get a tough rep — they work hard.
There are broadly two groups of workers as per the Central Government Department of India — 5-day (8 hours and 30 minutes per day) and 6-day (7 hours and 30 minutes). Let’s examine the 5-day workers:
Average Indian working age: 18–67 
This equates to 49 years of work-life.
Total hours: 429,240 hours
Total sleep: 143,080 hours (avg. 8 hours per night)
Total wake: 286,160 hours
Total workdays per year (Government Worker India) = 251 days 
Total workdays: 12,299 days (between 18–67)
Avg. Indian Government works 8.5 hours / day (42.5 hours / 5 day week)
Total work hours — 104,541.5 hours in a 49 year work lifetime.
= ~ ⅓ of one’s wake hours, roughly equal to about 12 continuous years of working.
Technology, Automation and the Modern Workforce.
“So you’ve got a huge campus where employees can roam around and find a comfortable space to work. No one can locate you and everyone uses Slack to communicate, Zoom to talk, and Dropbox to share files. You’re already working remotely, you’re just driving to an office to do it.”
Workweeks, work-hours, work-places, and even work-wears are getting a whole new definition in modern organisations the world over. Flexibility in work schedules is increasingly becoming the top priority for young job seekers.
With various online tools to manage productivity, communication and execution, remote working is setting a new trend in global businesses — for both start-ups and larger organisations. Employees can log in at their convenience, often in their sweatpants, finish the task at hand or jump into a video conference or simply chat on one of the preferred business communication apps — from their homes, a beach or while in transit in an Uber / Ola.
A Stanford University study inferred how working from home boosts productivity. As a growing trend, it finds strong acceptance in the United States, Europe and even in many developing countries as shown in the chart below:
Automation tools, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), are making most of the above easy and possible. AI is increasingly speeding up all the processes which are repetitive in nature or which follow a similar pattern over multiple cycles of operation. Scheduling, billing, payroll management, email responders, proposal generators and many more such tasks are gradually getting automated. This is helping create a workforce that is more productive, as they can now focus more on core business functions like strategic planning or creative thinking. The average work time per week in various developed countries is reducing:
Source in footer links.
As per available statistics, the annual working hour in the US in 1900 used to be 2900 hours. This went down to 1900 hours in 2000. In 2015 we are looking at 1900 hours per year roughly speaking and this is expected to continue decreasing all the way to 2050 as illustrated in the following figure:
Source in footer links.
The trend of decreasing work hour (as per the figure above) leads us to strongly believe that machines are increasingly replacing human work. This, as many analysts believe, would lead to a surge in joblessness.
To counter this concern, a new concept is gaining popularity in the Nordic countries. Referred to as work-sharing, two people split the work of one in an 8-hour work-day. The income also gets split and is lesser than before. However, Nordic countries have a strong and efficient system of stable social welfare, which helps people to maintain a livable wage even though the work income is low. More and more companies have started to adopt this system as a means to improve effectiveness at work.
The effectiveness of 8 hours per day / 5 days per week today.
A study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren’t working for most of the time they’re at work.
The most popular unproductive activities listed by the survey were:
- Reading news websites — 1 hour, 5 minutes
- Checking social media — 44 minutes
- Discussing non-work-related things with co-workers — 40 minutes
- Searching for new jobs — 26 minutes
- Taking smoke breaks — 23 minutes
- Making calls to partners or friends — 18 minutes
- Making hot drinks — 17 minutes
- Texting or instant messaging — 14 minutes
- Eating snacks — 8 minutes
- Making food in office — 7 minutes
The total here sums up to almost 4.5 hr. So for a 9 hr work-day, time spent effectively on work is just 4.5 hr. In many cases, this could go down to 3 hr of effective working a day.
Our AI overlords?
“Work will continue to evolve. Human progress is inevitable. And progress is impossible without change. The industrial revolution required routine skills. Most of them are no longer sufficient to thrive and do better in the current information revolution.” — Thomas Oppong
Work processes have systematically evolved since the first industrial revolution. The metrics of today’s capitalism point to the fact that anything that can be measured or based on rules will be automated.
This means that the only jobs available in the future will be the ones that machines can’t do. For better clarity, consider self-driving vehicles. They will sooner or later replace tens of millions of jobs currently conducted by humans. ‘Uberfication of everything’ is no more a trend, it’s a reality today, as human-interface gets nullified increasingly. Machines find greater acceptance among business owners as they don’t unionize, take breaks or suffer from depression.
One thing that remains baffling is that we are not preparing our society enough for the future. Our education systems, driven as they are blindly by the 4-point GPA systems, are still training kids for a world that will not exist.
Teaching future starry-eyed Wall St. bankers LBO models isn’t going to help when machines / AI are building them themselves, without the need for mid-summer bonus checks.
Some charts/data — (we heart data, like Nutella level love).
Robotics and artificial intelligence are eating jobs at an alarming rate. Automation may put a third of a million retail employees out of work in the next eight years, according to the British Retail Consortium.
What happens when all industries respond with mass unemployment and investments in automation?
Source in footer links.
Source in footer links.
The Ignored Math:
The math / गणित of full employment is interesting. Consider the following — with higher tech integration, fewer workers with current skill-sets, are to get employment in the industry. That means, to obtain “full employment” — where everyone who wants a job has one — the economy requires that everyone work shorter work-weeks (as cited above in the case of Nordic countries), or else an ever-growing number of businesses is needed in order to employ the same amount of people. As an example, let’s assume that an average business employs 10 people in its rolls for optimal output. For full employment, with the same level of output, 10 businesses are required to employ 100 people. If technology enhances the productivity to an extent that 1 person can do the work of 10, the average people a business employs drops to 1. Under the current scenario, the number of businesses needed to employ everyone has to grow to 100. (note: compensating for population growth would require even more than 100 businesses).
Bill Gates recently made the headlines when he suggested that machines like robots and AI could be taxed to offset the social impact of automation. For example, South Korea has introduced a policy that will limit available tax incentives for companies that invest in automated machines. A similar approach has also been considered in the UK, and has been supported by Bill Gates.
The money generated via this automation tax could be used towards financing a universal basic income (UBI). A number of countries, including Finland, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, the US, and Canada, are already considering different variations of a UBI to counteract the side effects of automation. Gates’ fanciful suggestion provides an insight into aspects of capitalism and human nature given that the whole point of automation is that the machine doesn’t require a salary or an employment contract.
It seems bizarre that we’re blessed with so much innovation that makes us more productive and yet many of us are working longer hours for at least 5 days a week. The social impact of such punishing schedules is quite possibly as bad as having no schedule at all.
Is it possible in the future that humans will be able to scale back their work hours, while still receive a comparable income through UBI if machines performed the bulk of humanity’s work? Citizens could spend more time on volunteering, entrepreneurship, family, civic engagement, and creative endeavours…. this is something we will explore further in our journey here at Khoob.
The future of काम/Work in India.
Why is an exploration in this vertical within the context of India important?
It basically boils down to 3 points:
- AI and automation is reducing the number of weekly hours per week per employee around the world (as inferred earlier).
Source in footer links.
2. This trend isn’t going to stop (as inferred earlier):
Source in footer links.
3. India has one of the largest and also unhappiest workforces in the world.
India is likely to have the world’s largest workforce by 2027, with a billion people aged between 15 and 64.
India ranked in at 122 out of 155 countries in the World Happiness Report 2017
According to a recent study, Indian millennials now have the longest working hour in the world. Clocking on an average of 52 hours per week, they even beat Japan’s notoriously famous hard-working culture (at 46 hours a week).
“I wish I could …
… spend more time with my kids.”
… travel more often.”
… spend less time working, more time on my crypto kitties collection.”