It was a Saturday night, I was enjoying a chilled G&T and a giant slice of chocolate cake, whilst watching some mindless Netflix show (a necessary indulgence after the week I had at work) when I saw I had a new work e-mail marked ‘urgent.’ Now if this was the first time, I would have opened it and in all likeness, done whatever was being asked of me, Saturday night mood intact. However, this was now a regular occurrence and any chance I had of having a night to myself to unwind and de-stress had gone down the drain. And this is what every weekend looks like now.
We keep reading about countries like Switzerland, where it's illegal to ask employees to work on weekends and Italy, where some companies pay you an extra month's salary so you can afford vacations. And yet we keep perpetuating a culture which is counter productive. How do we slowly get out of this rut?
India has always had a lousy work culture, owing to lots of factors; predominantly overpopulation, poverty and of course, lack of adequate jobs. We’ve always been a nation where putting in overtime (with no concept of remuneration for these extra hours) has been glorified and those who are spotted at the workspace in the middle of the night are celebrated (never mind if they’re actually working or not). If you are not willing to make your office your second home and put in extra hours at the cost of a work-life balance, there will always be someone else who is. Employers know this and this is where some of them (okay let’s face it, most of them) start taking advantage.
Cut to current day: We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, uncertainty is a part of life and mental health (everyone’s) is on the decline. One would think compassion and understanding would prevail at a time like this. But one would be very very wrong. Coronavirus has taken over our lives and a large chunk of us have found ourselves working from home. In theory, it sounds like a relaxed set-up: Waking up ten minutes prior to “reporting time”, staying in pyjamas all day long, taking multiple breaks whenever you so desire and breezing through Zoom calls. But no, push that reverie out of your head.
The economy has been severely hit and businesses are suffering. Needless to say, performance pressure is at an all-time high. Layoffs and pay cuts have penetrated into most companies and employees are being made to feel that they’re lucky to just have a job. And whereas, it’s one thing to be thankful, a lot of people in leadership roles are making their subordinates feel like they owe them their very souls. There is a disturbing sense of entitlement and ownership and a complete disregard of hard work and merit.
In these circumstances, working from home has proved to be a curse, as it has ended up blurring a lot of lines. There is no semblance of work hours and no such thing as ‘weekends.’ Managers are becoming more and more comfortable doling out work outside of work hours, because hey, you’re stuck at home, so you have nothing else to do, do you?
A lot of us aren’t in a position to question authority, out of the very real fear of losing our jobs or just being seen as a ‘slacker.’ My boss has taken to using the phrase ‘perform or perish’ in almost every Zoom meeting. Instead of lifting spirits, providing guidance and motivating his team (something which has become even more important in this era), he is quick to demoralise and demotivate, and essentially suck out any minimal job satisfaction anyone may have been feeling. Workload has doubled, salaries have halved. And this isn’t an individual experience. Talk to people around you and you’ll know how common this storyline is. This “trend” is creating an army of exhausted professionals, who are fast approaching burnout. Not only is this extremely unhealthy for those working but is also bound to backfire on the employers as this is destroying employee loyalty. Those who can afford to will resign immediately, others will look for opportunities elsewhere. Companies will end up losing a lot of their good people, because they failed to value them.
It needs to be acknowledged that working from home requires the same (if not more) amount of energy, discipline and dedication. Since COVID-19 is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future), we need to come up with solutions in a way that work is not compromised, but neither is mental and physical health. And this can only happen when employees feel comfortable enough to approach their managers and there is mutual respect. If we're looking to progress from a developing nation to a developed nation, it's also imperative to have healthy work practices. We keep reading about countries like Switzerland, where it's illegal to ask employees to work on weekends and Italy, where some companies pay you an extra month's salary so you can afford vacations. And yet we keep perpetuating a culture which is counter productive. How do we slowly get out of this rut?