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Indians are the one of the most hardworking people in the world

July 21, 2007

We’ve often heard about how lazy Indians are or are supposed to be. Well, I am not sure whether this is the case now, or if it ever was…let me pen down my personal observations first.

Everywhere I look, people are working and working damn hard. Lets start with the neighbourhood driver. His working day starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m and if he is lucky he gets leave for important family occasions. He gets Sundays and festival days off, but not always. The drivers who are permanent employees of corporates have an easier time, but they too work 12 hours a day. Just 12 hours a day works out to be 72 hours a week, not counting sundays.

Our construction laborers? A little less – 8-10 hours but they do hard physical labour. Being contract labour, they often get paid per day so for them there are no paid holidays.

Our housemaids. Quite a few start their working day at 7 a.m. and end it at 7. p.m – seven days a week! Most of them go from house to house and do heavy physical work, with only an hour’s break for lunch. And if there are maids who do not work this much it’s because they have to do back breaking work at home. Most of them do not a get a day off either at home or at work…because even if one household agrees, the other may not. The lucky ones are those who have one good and kind employer.

We don’t even have to mention our child labour…many of the kids work in poor conditions 14 hours a day without a break and without pay.

The security guards. They work 12 hours a day, officially. Take our police – they easily work 12-14 hours a day 6 days a week.

And most of these people earn a pittance per month, barely enough to cover their minimum needs and most of them live in squalor.

But this post is not just about poor people. My husband for example routinely works for 12 hours a day and the number of hours he works has actually reduced as he has got older. When he was 27 or so, he would tour 25 days a month, walk great distances during working hours, and when he was in the office, he worked easily 14-16 hours a day. He’s done it all…like roughing it out in the hinterlands of India. Very often he found it difficult to attend family functions and even today he works on Sundays at times. And if I look around me, I see this phenomena everywhere. Its not just my husband – everyone I know works like that. My cousin and her husband (surgeons) slog the whole day, do a high tension job but rarely take a break. Then our family friend in Delhi who runs a business…he works all the time. Lives, breathes and thinks work.

Take someone like Laxmi Nivas Mittal. Apparently he worked 16-18 hours a day seven days a week at one time and even today he works very long hours.

But I am not talking of just successful people here. Or even unskilled laborers.

I am talking of ordinary people, executives, managers, cooks, call centre workers, actors in TV serial, spot boys…I can go on and on. A five day week is very very rare for these people…sure there are those who do a 9-5 job too (government babus?) but such people exist all over the world, not just in India. In fact one of my cousins who was born and brought up in America was astounded at the way we work. He actually pitied us and was glad to live in the U.S. Our ‘work’ starts almost from our birth…our kids are put into school early, forced to learn the alphabet early, our sixth graders struggle to carry their school books and our ninth graders have to study so hard that they have little time for fun. By the time they finish school, the little time they had for leisure is depleted further.

Apparently this heavy pressure to succeed, the hard work that Indians have to do just to survive, is a natural phenomena in emerging economies. There’s this global survey which gives us the statistics…ofcourse it only talks of business executives.

According to the survey:

…business leaders around the world work on average 53 hours a week with Europeans working the fewest (50) hours, followed by respondents in East Asia (53 hours) and NAFTA (54 hours). Business leaders in emerging economies tend to work the longest hours with India and Argentina at the top of the league table, both at 57 hours a week, followed by Armenia, Australia and Botswana (all 56 hours a week). Italian business leaders work the least number of hours (47) a week in the world, followed predominately by European countries with Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland and Spain all on 48 hour average working weeks.

I guess we cannot look forward to working even 50 hours a week in the near future!  Anyway, I don’t think working so hard is such a bad thing. We are all so busy living and struggling that we have less time to be unhappy! I think overall we are a happy people notwithstanding surveys which state otherwise. Those surveys mainly ask people whether they are satisfied with the amount of money they have, whether they have a good house etc. but in India people are capable of being happy inspite of living in miserable physical conditions, with all its attendant frustrations. A walk through the slums is enough for us to know that. No one mugs you, no one looks at you with envy…they are alright.

(Photos taken by me in Mumbai)

Related Reading: Comparison of the national holidays of the world
Government does not want its short working hours highlighted

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. Ramesh Natarajan permalink
    July 21, 2007 2:09 pm

    Nita,
    Execellent article!

    While we (Indians) take pride of our hard working behaviour, the rest of the world sometimes misuse it, in many companies, extra work is not compensated or paid. I have worked in India in many companies, even in reputed companies, the workers will be paid normal salary instead of over time salary.

    In case of managerial/supervisory jobs, many companies don’t compensate by equivalent leave for the work on holidays/weekends. However, the flexi working hours in many IT Companies should be welcomed.

    I think, we shoud shift our approach from working hard to working smarter.

    Regards,
    Ramesh Natarajan, Dubai
    Global Indian

    • Ram permalink
      March 6, 2011 5:35 pm

      I absolutely agree with with Ramesh, with morning coffee while working on an onsite assignment, I started comparing life of Indian IT workers and rest of the world. I see we Indians do not spend enough time with our family and slog entire week and sometimes during the weekends to ensure timely delivery to our clients.

      This needs to stop somewhere else we will all have only work but no life…

      I wish to do something about this, probably this blog is a place to start.

      Well done Nita.

  2. July 21, 2007 3:14 pm

    wow.. Nice findings.. can be a good article for foriegn companies who wish to outsource projects.. :) pass this to BBC or any global channels.. make them publish this.

    Recently effective use of our staffs’ skills have improved greatly and that efficiency has grown from a high starting point. Good Signals for our future growth.

    BUT I wonder.. with such a large number of hard working people.. we have sooooooo less number of Global Brands with us.. I mean our pure indian brands.. almost nothing. India is more of Service hub but not a Product Hub.. just compare India with Germany or USA or France or UK.. I think it’s question of effectiveness in working.. Now It’s more of Mind game not just Muscle game..

  3. July 21, 2007 5:12 pm

    True Ramesh, there is exploitation in our system. Few employers give give overtime and I agree with you on working smarter…
    And Bharat you are right. More of a mind game in today’s competitive world! Well, we have lost a lot of time in our history…but now we are have started to make up for the lost time. And we will too. One thing India has is a lot of indigenous entrepreneurs and these are the guys who are going to give us some global brands in the future. Lets all look forward to that day.

  4. July 21, 2007 8:58 pm

    True.. we need Power Entrepreneurs to use our own hardworking population..

    Just think simple.. we still import Mobile phones.. Not even single popular mobile brand in india.. forget Mobiles.. we import Tooth-pick too.. he he.. what Reliance or Tata or airtel Mobile company doing with their huge debt (thousands of Crores of profit accumilated) ?????

    We have Entrepreneurs but sadly Entrepreneurship is weak…

    Unfortunately Govt. also not encouraging one.. It’s not easy to do business here.. especially product Business..

    Nita: Do you have any data on Current Scientific Research happenings in India? Like How people involved in research(Govt. funded).. recent inventions & innovations from India??

  5. July 22, 2007 4:16 am

    I strongly believe that people in the west have a ‘life’ of their own. That includes spending weekends with friends and family, going out in parks, picnics, holidays, children doing more than just going to schools and coaching classes. I believe it is the socialist model (Life is commitment to the state – work hard, and toil) that is holding us back from individual freedom. Of course I’m looking at it very superficially, they did go thru a phase of laborious work.
    I guess the only reason we work hard is to struggle and grab a small piece of resource for which there are ten other contenders.

    Your comment about people being ‘happy’ is indeed true and sounds like a paradox since the western tendency is to equate money with happiness. I don’t know the explanation to it, but my kaam waali baai once told me that God has given her this life, and since He knows best, she is happy with whatever she has. Maybe its religion.

  6. July 22, 2007 7:24 am

    Priyank, yes I think its a lot to do with religion and an underlying spirituality that Indians have….call it karma or acceptance of their fate if you will…
    About people abroad having a life – you are so right! I don’t think its anythign to do with a socialism though….in fact socialism kills the desire to work. I grew up during the time of socialism in India and see the great change now. People then did not firstly desire material things at all and hardly any things were available anyway! And then they were pretty laid back as you might get educated, but you may not get a job. There are many movies of that time which show this…hunting for jobs inspite of being educated, and then a lot of nepotism ..it will take a very long time to explain!
    Socialism may talk of commitment to the state but the very reason it does not work is because human beings by nature are committed to themselves.

  7. Sudhir Jatar permalink
    July 22, 2007 11:29 am

    No doubt, Indians are a very hard-working lot. We are also in perpetual hurry most of the time. You see anywhere, whether on the streets while walking or driving, at the post office, in shops, etc. I find the person behind you in a queue tends to push you or come along side with an anxious face as to when his turn would come. It is common to find persons whispering that they have some urgent work and do I mind if he goes ahead of me. Breaking of traffic signals is in the same category.
    Am I straying? No, because working hard, and hurry and scurry are part of the same phenomenon. I make two points here to solicit views. How do we compare with the more advanced countries in the output that we give in a given period of work? Are we an insecure lot, which shows in our anxiety, to reach our destinations, or complete our tasks post-haste and immediately?

  8. July 22, 2007 3:48 pm

    The reason is competition. We know that if we bluntly refuse to for some extra work then we might be thrown out since there are 100s of other who are knocking the door. Anyway, great post.

  9. July 22, 2007 3:57 pm

    well, in my opinion the reason people push and hurry is because they face these things everyday. if we faced a queue or a traffic jam once in a while we tend to be patient….but if it happens several times a day, people lose their patience.
    About output, yes our output is probably lower. Thats because of a lack of professional attitude. People tend to not cooperate at work, I have found that in my own experience. They are so eager to get ahead themselves that they withhold information (and lack of information systems in the corporate environment make it difficult to access information except through being nice to people), and they could even put obstacles in your way. So I guess it is insecurity….they do it because they can get away with it. In developed countries there are so many systems and transparency that it becomes difficult for an insecure person to act this way. He will be found out. Hopefully with more use of the RTI Act this tendency will decrease in India.
    Also in India there is a shortage of skilled staff. People are overworked and therefore they tend to not cooperate. I remember reading somewhere about some staffer at a visa renewal centre going on leave even though his doing so meant that several people had to cancel their tickets. Apparently he had been working without a break for months….the numbers were given, I don’t remember now.

  10. July 24, 2007 11:41 pm

    As automation and technologies are introduced the amount of hours worked in a week will fall. It wasn’t long ago where, if a family wanted to survive in Canada or Europe, they had to send their children into the coal mines. As the introduction of technologies happens children can be taken out of the workforce with no great loss to the family, and the child can be sent to school where they’re supposed to be. Personally I think this time is starting right now for India, but it’ll take a few years to break the tradition. It’s still expected among farming families here that any children would work on the farm. But there are laws protecting those children, and others prohibiting child labour off the farm… but there are exceptions, like if a 10-year old wanted to deliver newspapers in his community or mow lawns.

    It’s interesting… recently I had a discussion with my grandfather, a retired engineer. He built hydroelectric dams all over the world, including one on the border of India and Kashmir where he was brought in as a consultant. At one point a geologist was needed to examine the dam site and the decision was made to bring in a Canadian. My grandfather asked his Indian counterpart why an Indian wasn’t simply brought in… there being many Indian geologists who could have done the job. The man replied that there was a fear (at the time) over responsibility. If a Canadian was brought in, and screwed up, the Canadian didn’t lose their job. If an Indian was brought in and made a mistake there was a real possibility he may never work as a professional again.

    My grandfather, who also built a dam in Sri Lanka, has said in the past that Indians were among the best workers. According to him the people who are the worst workers, his least favourite workers, are Swedes.

  11. July 28, 2007 8:51 pm

    Sometimes we work hard so we can have time or the environment to be lazy :)

  12. August 1, 2008 1:24 pm

    These are great points, Nita!
    I too heard that Indians are lazy – I guess this impression comes from the way they do things.
    Inians are not that hectic as the Westernes, and they are also very humble, dont show off their results. That makes the different impression.

  13. Ravi permalink
    August 2, 2008 1:03 am

    Maybe we should start working sensibly like our western counterparts. Schooling in those countries is relatively easier than in India but the way they apply their knowledge is appreciable. We do math, remember structures of complex organic molecules, memorize up to 20×20 tables but we are not realizing how many things we have learned help us apply practical applications.

    We should do everything towards a goal or sit lazy. I would rather sit idle than doing something for nothing. Work on purpose and towards a goal then only all our efforts would be fruitful.

  14. Ravi permalink
    August 2, 2008 1:10 am

    Even our Indian managers are like that they always expect more. Its very common in any Indian organization that guys who work more always in good terms with their managers. And an intelligent but not so hard working person always scores less with his boss. Probably its our attitude that makes us to work more than its required. Its a common scene to see any employee oblige his boss and always acts as if he is afraid of him out of reverence. Isn’t that weird a typical Indian boss always likes a low self esteemed, over obliged guy than a talented and confident person.

  15. prudhvi permalink
    August 7, 2010 7:44 pm

    HAI YOU MADE INDIANS KEEP THEIR HEADS UP AND SAY THAT INDIANS FOLLOW THE ANCIENT KARMA SIDDHANTHA.THAKYOU

  16. June 19, 2011 10:57 am

    I am working in a multi-national country, this is just what i have observed.An opinion that comes on a deepest part of me in terms of hard work.When i arrived in this country 3 years ago, i met an Indian who became my best friend actually. We are working in a same company and he was my batch mate. We came from different countries.When we started our Job,after our 3 weeks of training, i just noticed that i had to tell him what he’s going to do the fact that he already knew about our job.At first few months i was just ignoring it,thinking that he was not just comfortable in that kind of work because he was new.But until now, he acts like that…( Doing his Job when it’s already late for him to finish it so the next shift will be the one to make it done).He always say ” ill do that later, it’s too early. we still have time”.That’s Why i quit being his friend.yes, he’s really a nice person, A good friend but he’s not hardworking.

    Second thing, for that 3 years of staying here, i have observed that many of them didn’t really works hard. (just in my company) .I was transferred to another location 6 months ago, And I have 3 Indian co-workers now, But still the same.one of them is just sitting inside our office and waiting for our manager to call him for some paper works while we are busy doing our job outside our office.Note:He’s not our supervisor,he’s just also a staff like me.While the second guy always says “Why do i need to work more? my salary is not enough”. he shouldn’t take this job if he already knew how much will be his salary right? we were informed about our salary at the time of our contract signing. the other Indian Guy, who’s work needs to be done again really just wasted our time. Yes, he’s doing his Job but… why do we need to repeat his job? Because it’s not satisfying.So he just wasted his time.

    I’m not saying that all of them is Lazy… but let’s try to look to other people who works more than what the Indian can. I can also say that there a lot’s of hardworking Indian but most are not. Because office work is really different from our job.We have to work worth more than our salary for us to make difference.

  17. June 19, 2011 11:07 am

    i also have a lot of Indian friends.They are really friendly. there’s only one thing that I don’t want… Working hard only to show to those people sitting in a higher position that they are not lazy.. In short showing fake attitude to take an advantage. Working just in front of Boss. Sorry to say this but we have a freedom to say whatever we observed… But in a nice and educated way. God Bless!

  18. August 27, 2011 8:43 pm

    Please nobody take offense at what I’m saying: It’s true that Indians and many other Asians work much harder than others. But, and this is more important, it’s the productivity that counts. I worked for an Indian conglomerate for two years, and I often saw that ten people were made to work on one single silly letter — with the result that too many cooks spoil the dish. Often the letter would not even be sent in the end. If the time of all those people were working so many hours were spent in a productive way, Indians would be the leaders of the world (and I believe eventually they will even work out this and they will become the leaders of the world, which they were for many many centuries before the West started flourishing and exploiting their colonies). Again, please nobody take offense, it’s just my experience.

  19. January 4, 2012 11:52 pm

    Definitely we do work more. But compare a certain set of job done by an indian worker with that of a vietnamese worker, or a romanian. definitely their output have more quality/quantity compared to an average indian worker.
    Just like how we used to joke at work, an indian worker would know better than an average worker to put a dot where he is told to, but he wouldnt know why to put a dot or when to put a dot.

    We need to become more smarter at work than just hard working. Hopefully our education will produce just more than “chaprasi” mindset

  20. ajay permalink
    August 25, 2012 11:23 pm

    Hi am working in Hyderabad . I got vexed up with my office working hours .we are made to work from 9am-11.30 pm .i.e 14.5 hrs daily making 72.5 hrs if 5 days .this is the minimum working hours per week .we cannot oppose due to job security and so is’nt there any solution to end up such unscruoplous companies. where has gone the fundamental rights safeguarding its citizens .right to proper sleep.does our government just want money from the services sector????? and not its citizens!!!!!.help me out.sometimes feel vexed of my life too .

  21. B.Suthar permalink
    October 23, 2012 12:26 pm

    That’s true…

  22. srini korasree permalink
    December 4, 2012 7:27 am

    What can I say Nita? Very thorough and convincing write-up. Let me say a few words about people of Indian origin who have immigrated and settled in the USA and their work ethics. Based on the published numbers/news reports, on the average the earnings of Indian community stands the highest compared to all other immigrant groups in the USA. What does this tell? Not only HARD work but with goal oriented.

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