Indian FinTech start-up tries out three-day work week to attract talent

Bengaluru-based Slice is offering new hires a shorter work week with salary at 80% of the going market rate

Young Chinese colleagues working together in a busy co-working space from above. Getty Images
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A shortage of technology talent has Indian companies offering sweeteners such as more holiday time and paternal leave as they compete for graduates and professionals. One Bengaluru start-up is trying a more dramatic solution: a three-day work week.

FinTech company Slice is offering new hires a three-day week with salary at 80 per cent of the going market rate. This is a win-win approach that frees the workers to pursue other passions or interests – or other gigs – while still locking in a steady pay and benefits from Slice, Rajan Bajaj, the company’s founder, said.

“This is the future of work,” Mr Bajaj, 28, said. “People don’t want to be tied down to a job.”

Global investors are pouring billions of dollars into India’s tech start-ups, putting entrepreneurs under pressure to strengthen teams. A massive talent crunch has ensued as IT outsourcers, Silicon Valley giants, global retailers and Wall Street banks’ technology centres vie for engineering and product talent alongside hundreds of fast-growing start-ups.

Slice is betting that its approach will make it stand apart from the competition. The company has 450 employees and wants to recruit 1,000 engineers and product managers in the next three years.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Mr Bajaj said. “Workers can get salary and full benefits working a three-day week, and spend the rest of their time chasing a start-up dream, looking for a co-founder or pursuing a non-work passion.”

The move toward shorter weeks has been under way for at least a century. In 1926, Henry Ford adopted a five-day work week in place of the typical six days, after experiments showed productivity wouldn’t suffer as a result. Companies and countries have experimented with four-day weeks for years without widespread adoption.

Proponents of shorter weeks point to studies showing a boost in employee productivity and well-being, prompting countries including Ireland and Iceland to try them out. The world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon, piloted a four-day week for some employees in 2018, and even China is trying to rein in its excessive working hours.

As in Silicon Valley, the Indian start-up industry’s work-centred culture is leaving some engineers disenchanted while some are milking the opportunity for all it is worth. Engineers’ salaries have tripled in the past three years, Mr Bajaj said. Bidding wars are common and workers are known to ignore start-ups after several rounds of pay negotiations. Founders joke on social media about advertising on matchmaking and food delivery apps to obtain workers.

Such is the hiring bonanza that Bhavish Aggarwal, founder of ride-hailing start-up Ola and electric car start-up Ola Electric Mobility, tweeted partly in jest that he was thinking of outsourcing work to a cheaper destination – America’s San Francisco Bay Area.

Flush with capital, start-ups are also spending on other initiatives to attract engineers and designers. Social commerce platform Meesho announced a company-wide 10-day break in November so workers can unplug and rejuvenate. FinTech start-up BharatPe has proffered referral goodies such as BMW bikes, gadgets and cricket holidays in Dubai.

Slice began offering its three-day option on Monday, and it is betting its timing is opportune: millions of engineers are preparing to return to in-person work, after nearly two years of being confined to working from home.

The start-up, founded in 2016, specialises in offering credit cards to India’s young adults. Its physical card was launched in 2019 with the company touting sign-ups of less than a minute, cashback and a variety of payment options. Slice issued 110,000 cards last month, making it among the country’s top providers. Its backers include Japan’s Gunosy Capital and India’s Blume Ventures.

Updated: October 05, 2021, 4:30 AM