In one of the more popular fairy tale tropes, the bad witch offers the naive young heroine untold wealth and life in a castle with Prince Charming in return for something fantastically unreasonable, like giving up her first-born child or her tongue. Bombay Shaving Company’s CEO Shantanu Deshpande didn’t go quite so far. In a recent post on LinkedIn, Deshpande told young workers that they can build enough “flex” in the first five years of their career to carry them through the rest, if only they put in “18 hours a day” and exhorted them not to do “random rona-dhona” (whining) about things like work-life balance and spending time with family. 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.
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.
At such a time, when more voices are speaking up for shortening work days — even proposing such shifts as a four- or three-day work week — batting for 18-hour work days seems ill-fitting and out of step. 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. Yet, in its tone-deafness, his original post shows that the battle for a workplace that doesn’t eat into workers’ personal lives and well-being is going to be a long one.