Understanding worker productivity


N.R. Narayana Murthy’s recent advocacy for young Indians to work 70 hours a week, citing Japan and Germany as successful examples due to increased work hours post-World War II, has stirred a debate on worker productivity in India. Murthy highlighted India’s low worker productivity, prompting questions about the distinction between worker and labor productivity. This distinction lies in mental versus manual activities; worker productivity encompasses intellectual labor, posing challenges in independently measuring output value. Murthy’s suggestion of boosting productivity by increasing working hours raises concerns of potentially exploiting workers for profit maximization.


GS – 02, GS – 03 (Issues Relating to Development, Government Policies & Interventions, Industrial Policy, Inclusive Growth)


Demographic Dividend, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF), Make in India, Ease of Doing Business, National Industrial Corridor Development.

Mains Question:

Discuss the nuances between worker productivity and economic growth, examining their interrelation and impact on income distribution in India. (150 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Worker Productivity and Skill Enhancement
  • Link Between Worker Productivity and Economic Growth
  • Worker Productivity in India
  • Informal Labor and Productivity Calculation

Worker Productivity and Skill Enhancement:

  • Worker productivity transcends time and hinges more on skill development. Human capital, comprising education, training, and health, elevates labor’s output value within standard working hours.
  • Reducing working hours doesn’t necessarily diminish output value; instead, it enhances workers’ quality of life while potentially increasing economic contributions.

Link Between Worker Productivity and Economic Growth:

  • The correlation between productivity and economic growth is intricate. India’s significant GDP growth hasn’t equally benefited all income groups.
  • The rising income disparity, notably the substantial gains of the top-income strata, doesn’t inherently correlate with increased productivity.
  • This discrepancy raises concerns about the legitimacy of income distribution within the capitalist system.

Worker Productivity in India:

  • India’s purported low worker productivity is debatable. Income, used as a proxy for productivity, doesn’t accurately reflect worker productivity.
  • The declining share of wages vis-a-vis profits could be attributed to unfavorable labor laws, informal employment rise, and unfavorable working conditions.
  • Contradictory reports suggest Indians work diligently but earn low wages, undermining claims of low productivity.

Informal Labor and Productivity Calculation:

  • The growing informal employment sector complicates productivity evaluation. The formalization drive, mainly tax-based, hasn’t uplifted labor standards or conditions. Cost-cutting through wage reductions in labor-intensive sectors like MSMEs exemplifies exploitation of workers.
  • Outsourcing by large corporations to such smaller units further perpetuates this scenario.

Comparative Analysis with Japan and Germany:

  • Comparing India’s economy to Japan and Germany lacks nuance due to fundamental differences in labor force, technological trajectory, and socio-cultural structures.
  • India requires a unique approach, focusing on social investments and domestic consumption potential for sustainable development and increased productivity.

Way Forward and Conclusion:

  • The discourse on worker productivity demands a nuanced approach. Encouraging skill enhancement and human capital development rather than excessive work hours is vital. India needs an equitable income distribution and labor system to address disparities. A holistic approach, focused on social investments and a human-centric development model, is pivotal for India’s sustainable progress.
  • In essence, the debate on worker productivity in India must move beyond mere working hours to address the complex interplay between skill development, income distribution, and the unique socio-economic landscape of the country. This approach will pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable growth trajectory.