Friday, September 07, 2007

Why we should go home on time

I have got a forwarded email which purportedly contains the words of Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys Technologies. While I can't confirm its authenticity, I pretty much agree with the message conveyed. I now re-produce it here…


Mr. Narayana Murthy is undoubtedly one of the most famous persons from Karnataka. He is known not just for building the biggest IT Empire in India but also for his simplicity. Almost every important dignitary visits InfoSys campus. He delivered an interesting speech during an employee session with another IT company in India . He is incidentally, one of the top 50 influential people of Asia according to an Asiaweek publication and also the new IT Adviser to the Thailand Prime Minister.

Extract of Mr. Narayana Murthy's Speech during Mentor Session:

I know people who work 12 hours a day, six days a week, or more. Some people do so because of a work emergency where the long hours are only temporary. Other people I know have put in these hours for years. I do not know if they are working all these hours, but I do know they are in the office this long. Others put in long office hours because they are addicted to the workplace.

Whatever the reason for putting in overtime, working long hours over the long term is harmful to the person and to the organization. There are things managers can do to change this for everyone's benefit. Being in the office long hours, over long periods of time, makes way for potential errors.

My colleagues who are in the office long hours frequently make mistakes caused by fatigue. Correcting these mistakes requires their time as well as the time and energy of others. I have seen people work Tuesday through Friday to correct mistakes made after 5 PM on Monday.

Another problem is that people who are in the office long hours are not pleasant company. They often complain about other people (who are not working as hard); they are irritable, or cranky, or even angry. Other people avoid them. Such behavior poses problems, where work goes much better when people work together instead of avoiding one another.

As Managers, there are things we can do to help people leave the office. First and foremost is to set the example and go home ourselves. I work with a manager who chides people for working long hours. His words quickly lose their meaning when he sends these chiding group e-mails with a time-stamp of 2 AM, Sunday.

Second is to encourage people to put some balance in their lives. For instance, here is a guideline I find helpful:

  1. Wake up, eat a good breakfast, and go to work.
  2. Work hard and smart for eight or nine hours.
  3. Go home.
  4. Read the books/comics, watch a funny movie, dig in the dirt, play with your kids, etc.
  5. Eat well and sleep well.

This is called recreating. Doing steps 1, 3, 4, and 5 enable step 2. Working regular hours and recreating daily are simple concepts. They are hard for some of us because that requires 'personal change'. They are possible since we all have the power to choose to do them.

In considering the issue of overtime, I am reminded of my oldest son. When he was a toddler, if people were visiting the apartment, he would not fall asleep no matter how long the visit was, and no matter what time of day it was. He would fight off sleep until the visitors left. It was as if he was afraid that he would miss some thing. Once our visitors' left, he would go to sleep. By this time, however, he was over tired and would scream through half the night with nightmares. He, my wife, and I, all paid the price for his fear of missing out.

Perhaps some people put in such long hours because they do not want to miss anything when they leave the office. The trouble with this is that events will never stop happening. That is life! Things happen 24 hours a day. Allowing for little rest is not ultimately practical. So, take a nap. Things will happen while you are asleep, but you will have the energy to catch up when you wake. Hence,


- Narayana Murthy -

My personal experience tells me that what Narayana Murthy said was right to certain extent. A few years ago, I worked as an engineer for Ericsson in Southern California. One of Ericsson’s clients was Pacific Bell Wireless (later Cingular Wireless and now AT&T). Engineering Division of Pac Bell Wireless was allocated a budget for that year to upgrade its mobile network. Since the budget would not be carried over to the following year, the Engineering Division decided to get as many projects done as possible. In November and December of the year, Ericsson’s engineers worked days and nights to meet the demand. Finally, an outage happened and temporarily disrupted the service of Pac Bell Wireless.

Pac Bell Wireless and Ericsson held a teleconference to discuss the outage. I was at the client’s site the night before the incident, and was therefore told to take part. There were lots of finger-pointing going on. Just as I was feeling the heat, an enlightened manager from the client uttered these words:

“Do not overwork. If you are tired, you make mistake.”


  1. I should send this to my boss. I OT till 11:30pm on tuesday and last night at 9pm and I insist to go home and sacrastically replied and let me go home. Sigh....

    I believe in balance of life. I dun wanna work with this kind of company & team.

    btw, have a great weekend ahead. Hey, really thanks for the offer you gave me. Maybe next time. I really tempted, but I very shy. Hahaha

  2. princess,
    If you send this to your boss, I worry he/she would be very unhappy. Perhaps you need some tricks to get the message across.

  3. balance in life is very important. I do believe work and rest at the right time really worked to minimise mistakes...but how many can believe that it work?

  4. kai,
    Yes, the management don't usually believe that. But when something goes wrong, it's the people down there who get the blames.


    The above is true but it's not easy to draw the line between loving one's job and falling in love with the company because both are intertwined. Thanks for the reminder, KS.

  6. happy,
    I think people who really love their jobs can draw the line. But those who love their companies don't know if they also love their jobs.