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UPSC Essentials: Issue at a glance — New trends in work culture: Quiet quitting, moonlighting and the ‘18-hour work’ debate


“Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness,” said Thomas Carlyle the famous author of The French Revolution. In contemporary times, work, job, or labour have taken different forms giving rise to new terminologies, issues, challenges and sometimes debate.

Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that make up the regular atmosphere in a work environment are what we all know as work culture. Over the last couple of months, or maybe in the post-pandemic era, new trends and debates have dominated the work culture.

Quiet quitting, moonlighting, hustle culture, eighteen-hour work debate and work-life balance have appeared in many articles of The Indian Express. Let us look into them from the larger perspective of work culture.

Relevance: Ethics paper 2022 was an eye-opener for many. It is not enough to know the static definitions. UPSC is experimenting with applying current and social issues as theory questions in Section A. Moreover, such topics are highly relevant for GS I- Society and Essay. One is also expected to know these issues as the youth of today are a part of it.

What is quiet quitting?

— Quiet quitting doesn’t refer to employees actually leaving their jobs, but instead, doing the bare minimum required of them. This could entail leaving work exactly at the end of one’s shift, demanding additional pay for extra work, not signing up for ambitious projects, separating one’s identity from their jobs, and/or setting clear work-life boundaries.

— While some acknowledge the need to strike a healthy work-life balance through quiet quitting, others consider it to be lazy, disloyal and potentially indicative of an overall downward spiral.

— Quiet quitters may have legitimate concerns driving their actions, but according to most workplace experts, although doing less may be tempting in the short-run, in the long term, doing so could harm one’s career and adversely impact company productivity.

Why is quiet quitting happening?

— After nearly two years of remote or hybrid work, work culture has fundamentally changed — for better or for worse. The pandemic introduced many challenges that both increased what is demanded of employees, and allowed them to reimagine what alternative work systems could look like.

— Remote work has fueled the quiet quitting movement in several ways.

* Firstly, it has increased the number of hours employees spend working, thus contributing to increased levels of burnout.

* According to a report by Denver University, employees are further burdened by working from home because although some activities become more convenient, work also becomes potentially all-consuming.

* Secondly, while employees have shown varying levels of productivity for decades, remote work has allowed these employees to slack off unnoticed.

*Additionally, for some, remote work has introduced novel concepts such as Fridays off, digital meetings, and flexible work hours. After experiencing the benefits of such arrangements, workers may be reluctant to go back to the old way of doing things.

*Now that many companies are asking their employees to return to the workplace, those employees may react to the lost freedoms by disengaging from their professional responsibilities.

*The challenges of the pandemic have also contributed to dissatisfaction among employees who believe their managers have little concern for employee welfare. Only 24 percent of Americans thought their managers had their best interests at heart, according to a Gallup poll released in March 2022.

Moonlighting

Why in news?

— Software services company Wipro and Infosys has taken a stance on moonlighting. Companies have warned their employees that dual employment is not permitted, and that any violation of the contract clauses will trigger disciplinary action “which could even lead to termination of employment”.

— The debate on moonlighting came to the fore after food-tech company Swiggy allowed its employees to take up side gigs as long as they didn’t affect their full-time work at the company.

What is Moonlighting?

— Moonlighting is the act of working at an extra job beyond regular working hours, usually without the knowledge of the employer.

— Since the side job was mostly at night time or on weekends, it was referred to as moonlighting.

— The term gained popularity when workers in the US started seeking a second job beyond their regular 9-to-5 work for additional income.

— Moonlighting as an issue has been controversial, and seemingly commenting on the new Swiggy policy, Wipro chairman Rishad Premji tweeted on August 22, “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple.”

Why do people moonlight, and is it legal?

— The main reason for going above and beyond an existing job is earning more money. Additionally, working in a different role can allow a person to develop new skills, explore related domains and connect with more people.

— However, employers are suspicious of this practice often because it can mean that a worker may not give their organisation the time it needs, and not give any extra time to either organisation. Holidays and time off are also meant to rest a worker and improve their efficiency, but taking on another job could make this difficult.

— In India, private companies usually do not allow holding multiple jobs. Shops and Establishment Acts of various states restrict double employment as well but vary in application especially when it comes to highly-specialized industries.

Has moonlighting increased recently?

— In the last two years, coronavirus-induced lockdowns increased the tendency to moonlight among workers in certain industries.

— This was because apart from financial insecurity at the time, working from home allowed a few categories of workers to get more work done, freeing up time for a second job.

— The gig economy concept has gained greater legitimacy in recent years, too.

— It was recently reported in a Kotak Institutional Equities survey of 400 people across the IT and ITeS space, that 65 per cent of people knew of those pursuing part-time opportunities or moonlighting while working from home.

— Even though double employment is not banned in the US, many workers kept their second job discreet; some were fired when found out.

According to an Hr Professional who developed the moonlighting policy at Swiggy,

“Any project or activity that is taken up outside office hours or on the weekend, without affecting productivity, and does not have a conflict of interest, can be picked up by the employees. The employee will have to declare a few necessary details so that the team can greenlight the project.”

 ’18 hours work’ debate and hustle culture

— Hustle culture is defined as one that encourages employees to work more than normal working hours. Work is on their minds even when they have free time or on holidays. The major requirement of this culture is to complete a job on target at a faster pace than usual.

— More than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, as people work from home, dealing with burnouts and mental health issues, young professionals have come to realise that the glorified notion of hustling isn’t all that it was made out to be. With the changing work environment and economy due to the pandemic, younger generations are starting to reject hustle culture and prioritise work-life balance.

— A LinkedIn post by the CEO of a company advising youngsters to work 18 hours a day, at least for four to five years initially in their career, faced a backlash and was ridiculed. Shantanu Deshpande, CEO and founder of Bombay Shaving Company, posted on LinkedIn Tuesday advising people who are new in a “job to throw yourself into it”. He also suggested that work-life balance, spending time with family, rejuvenation etc is important but not that early in life.

— Thousands of people online have correctly interpreted this CEO-speak as an unconscionable demand for blood, sweat and tears, and accused Deshpande of promoting a “toxic” work culture. This advice to young workers to put in 18-hour days sounds ill-fitting. After generating massive outrage online, Deshpande clarified that he doesn’t “literally” mean that young people should work 18 hours a day and that anyone is welcome to speak to his employees about the work culture in his company.

What does WHO study on long working hours say?

— In the first global study of the loss of life associated with longer working hours, the paper in the journal Environment International showed that 745,000 people died from stroke and heart disease associated with long working hours in 2016. That was an increase of nearly 30 per cent from 2000.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers,” she said.

— The joint study, produced by the WHO and the International Labour Organization, showed that most victims (72 per cent) were men and were middle-aged or older. Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the shifts worked.

— It also showed that people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region — a WHO-defined region which includes China, Japan and Australia — were the most affected.

— Overall, the study – drawing on data from 194 countries – said that working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35 per cent higher risk of stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared with a 35-40 hour working week.

— The study covered the period 2000-2016, and so did not include the COVID-19 pandemic, but WHO officials said the surge in remote working and the global economic slowdown resulting from the coronavirus emergency may have increased the risks.

— Capping hours would be beneficial for employers since that has been shown to increase worker productivity, WHO technical officer Frank Pega said. “It’s really a smart choice not to increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”

Why is it important to have a work-life balance?

Siddhartha S, an author of 5 books — ’60 Keys to Success with NLP’, ‘Thank God it’s Monday’, and many others writes,

I personally believe that a 70+ hour work week should be a personal choice and not an imposed or implied philosophy. The irony is, some of the corporate tycoons and public figures endorse the work culture of 996 and we may see increased adoption of this philosophy. But creating a work-life balance is important, like it is imperative for employers to encourage the employees and address their grievances.

Siddhartha S discusses following relevant points related to the issue:

1.   Work-life balance is critical

Humans are different from machines because they value family bonds and social relationships. We all know that office relationships are important but they cannot compensate for the absence of personal relationships in our lives. If an employee is spending twelve hours at work, then he or she has little or no time for parents, spouse, siblings, children, friends and other family members.

2.    Put health before wealth

Numerous studies have proven that humans who sit for more than 8 hours a day, double their risk of cardiac-related problems. Thus, it is very important that human beings get to move and exercise as part of their work. A lot of companies are installing standing decks in lot of its offices to ensure that its employees stay healthy.

3.    Do not be hypnotised by your success story

Rolf Dobelli in his book titled, “The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions”, mentioned the survivorship bias. Most of the self-made successful people suffer from this bias. They think that they have won and have became successful because they are smarter than the rest and have worked harder than the rest. What they fail to see are the factors at play. Also all those who have failed are not undisciplined people. It is important to stay humble and not to give unwarranted advice. One thing that I am proud of is that I have never imposed my formula on the world. I only broadcast my ideas and let people decide if they want to adopt them or not.

4.    Devise an incentive system if you want employees to work extra hours

Consultants, investment bankers, corporate lawyers and surgeons work long hours but they also get rich in the process. Thus, if any organisation is planning to adopt 996 as the official working hour system, then they should carve out a win-win deal for the management as well as the employees. People do not mind working hard, if the promise is guaranteed. Not all interns who work for free or minimal wages become executives.

5.    Success has different meanings for different people

Economic success is not the only yardstick to measure the success of human life. There are so many people who after their 40 hour work week, prefer to do something for the society or for their families. It would be inconsiderate to label them as people who have no ambition.

6.    Entrepreneur and employee mindset is different

When a self-made billionaire entrepreneur begins to expect that his employees should work as hard as he did, then the billionaire is being ignorant. If an employee has to work 70+ hours for a basic salary, then it is not a great idea. The employee may as well take the entrepreneurship path where there is an opportunity to create a company and to keep the profits.

Between the lines

Among the problems highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic was that of excessively demanding workplaces and burnout. As the global economy picks itself up again, the urge to get back to “business as usual” is being met with subtle resistance — like the Great Resignation in which many voluntarily left their existing jobs to pursue something more fulfilling or the Quiet Quitting movement where workers do only as much as is expected of their jobs and nothing more.

We live in a digital age and smart work matters more than hard work. We want happy, productive and energetic employees rather than the employees who are compelled to work long hours at sub-optimal productivity levels. Work is a matter of choice and employees deserve this dignity of choice in today’s world.

Point to ponder: After decades of believing die-hard ambition and hustle culture was a worthy aim, quiet quitting, the trend of doing the bare minimum at work, and having a meaningful life (guilt -free) outside of it, is a mainstream choice. Critically examine.

Post Read Q & A

  1. Do you think moonlighting projects have existed for long and that it’s time we embrace them? Will such projects will enable productivity and creativity for the employees? Or do you think moonlighting is an unethical practice or “cheating?”
  2. Do you think by rejecting hustle culture youngsters are rejecting the idea of work is worship, the abiding mantra of middle-class India?

Well, the debate seems not to end. Nevertheless, do comment below and give your opinion.

 





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