Work life balance is an often quoted term in our lives. It is defined as “the division of one's time and focus between working and family or leisure activities”.
In today’s India, this concept is more of a joke in most of the organisations. There is virtually no balance left and there is no leisure activity. First few years in your professional life, you feel things will get better in future and you will reach a balance, but it is a mirage. Tomorrow never comes.
Anyone daring to speak his mind about a balance is treated as a traitor and outcast. For an organisation, the important things are business, topline, bottomline, per capita productivity and so on; the employees’ health, family, leisure activities are none of an employer’s business.
Ironically, every employer's Mission Statement would boast of quest for this balance though!
While one can understand long working hours every now and then due to different time zones of clients and project deadlines, it cannot go on every day of your working life.
Very early in my career, I was told that if you work late every day, there can only be two reasons – either you are inefficient or you are overworked. None of these situations is good, so either you should improve your skills or your organisation should hire more people to do the work.
I have had the experience of working with some of the best organisations in my life – where working smart was the mantra and everyone was concerned with the quality and timing of your work. No one pretended nor was expected to do late hours or work over the weekends without actual need. Hard work and sincerity were appreciated, not late sitting alone.
However, nowadays, the trend seems to be changing. You can see people showing off being busy 24X7X365, as if they have no life outside their office. The bigger the organisation, the higher the possibility that it will stay open 24/7. As a result, I have seen people in their mid-20s burning out and people in 40s suffering from hypertension and going to luxury resorts to go for 15 days treatments.
Being in office all the time means you cannot exercise, never go to gym, never feel the fresh air, never feel the sun, never go to your favourite movies, no time for romance, no family life, no leisure, no rest, no time for kids, no time to read any interesting book. All you get is millions of Rupees or Dollars to spend on fancy cars or big apartments (where you seldom get to rest) or hefty EMIs to pay for your expensive possessions. This causes frustration and depression.
I read today that Japan has banned overtime beyond a limit to stop suicides. Indians are one of most depressed people as well.
However, in today's India, it is fashionable among people at higher level to boast killing timings and anyone who tries to leave office in time is virtually named and shamed. People at lower levels complain and crib in private, yet never have the courage to speak up against the high and the mighty at appropriate forum
I’d enlist few reasons for the present state:
1. Most Indians do not believe in entitlements – they have a slave mentality. They’d rather work overtime and work on weekends to make the extra buck. Relaxing or enjoying free time with family is akin to a crime. As majority of Indians traditionally belong to poor or middle class families, they would work more to earn more. Indians are poorest in utilisation of their earned leaves too. They’d accumulate their leave entitlement (if it can be carried forward) and encash this entitlement, whenever possible, even on their retirement. They feel the employer is doing them a great favour just by employing them and can't let the employer get upset with them for any reason. Going back on time is the biggest reason for annyoing one's employer in today's India.
2. Culture of pleasing your employer at all costs, as it is expected to fetch you rewards, bonus, increment, promotion, brownie points and edge over others. Everyone complains about lack of life and energy, but no one dares to speak up at company meetings for fear of losing out.
3. For every sensible professional seeking a work-life balance, there are 100s who do not care for their health or family. This forces even people who do not have any work left for the day or have no deadline to stay longer hours. Females are worst sufferers of this malaise. They are often discriminated against for the perception that they cannot stay long hours everyday, particularly after marriage and children.
4. Many professionals do not attend to their business seriously and effectively. They’d come to office at noon, waste time in gossiping, long breaks for smoke, snacks and meals, social media, whatsapp and so on. When bosses arrive in office, they pretend working and don’t bother to go home ever. Many of these professionals come from smaller cities, have no family to go home to. Even if married, they dump all the responsibilities to their spouse, who would tolerate anything in lieu of the fact package that the working spouse is getting. Where the spouse is equally qualified, working or assertive, we see disconnect, bickerings and divorces. Even that doesn’t dither these hardworking professionals though.
5. Most of the bosses do not start their day on stipulated time. They are not there to see who comes to office in on time, is smart enough to complete her work in time and wants to leave on time. They are impressed with people who sit late and can accompany them for drinks, gossip and parties. Such bosses expect their subordinates to adjust to their timings and lifestyle which the latter invariably though grudgingly do most of the time.
6. Many bosses do not have a good personal life due to erratic working hours and habits. Since they are never available for their families, the families stop caring about them. This is a vicious circle. Such mutual indifference towards each other drives such bosses to be omnipresent in office forcing the subordinates to be at the beck and call of the boss. Those who can sacrifice their own personal lives to accompany such bosses at all hours thrive and the ones caring more about their family, health or life tend to lose out or have to eventually move out.
7. At the other end of slave mentality, there is a master mentality at the employer’s end. An employer feels entitled to and ownership of the employee’s time, 24X7. They do not care for privacy, family time or non-office hours of the employee, whether bothering an employee is necessary or not. Employees have no choice but dance to the tunes of employer as the sword of dismissal is always hanging. You simply cannot be on the wrong side of your employer. In India. with so much of unemployment and underemployment offer, you can expect 100 applicable per vacant post. So, the likelihood of another job is very tough for the employee and that of a substitute employee is very easy for the employer. In fact, an employer may benefit from resignation or firing of an employee, he can get the same work done by the remaining employees without any extra expenses - they'd be shit scared to see the fate of resigning / fired employee after all.
8. Indian clients are very demanding, sometimes even unreasonably. In terms of entitlement feeling, they are worse even than the employer. A professional, therefore, has not one, but two masters to please. A client feels entitled to unrestricted access to professionals without a care for the latter’s life. The client may take ages to respond to a professional’s request for information but once the client responds, his work should be completed within next couple of hours, whatever situation the professional may be in.
9. Availability of laptops, mobile phones and internet everywhere means we cannot ever switch off. Professionals are always accessible and employers and clients wouldn’t let go of a chance to force them to get to work, even if they are on holiday.
10. Professionals are scared to ask for vacations for their marriage, honeymoon or other family exigencies due to peer pressure. Others in the same organisation may boast of a holiday-free year(s) or cite other examples of their commitment to the organisation. I have seen some organisations honouring such employees! I think it starts very early in Indians' lives, even students don't take a leave for years on the trot despite illness, family functions and so on.
At the end of the day, your family will not remember you for the good work you did at office, the transactions worth billions you closed but for the time you spent with them, the stories you read to your children or the games you played with them, the quality time you spent with family. A week or two’s holiday break to an exotic location every year cannot compensate for 15 minutes spent every day with your family or having a meal together every day.
Please bear in mind, most of the organisations (in India at least) care for you as long as you are useful for them and are dancing to their tunes. They would not give a damn if you resign, burn out or die in office - it is cruel fact, but true. You better take care of your life, health and family and see how much you should accommodate or sacrifice.
Another survey says those who are with the same organisation for more than 5 years in an organisation make 40% less than newcomers. The idea is not to promote hopping but you should do what you feel like in life and not always what the organisation expects of you. You should stick to an organisation for long only if the overall environment is good because you would be compromising on the compensation anyways.
To strive for a balanced life, all the concerned parties, i.e., employer, employee and the clients have to be reasonable and respectful to each other’s time, privacy and life. It is easier said than done, though.
Your comments and observations are welcome.
Bhumesh is the Managing Partner of Corp Comm Legal, an Indian law firm. He is ranked among the Top 100 Indian corporate lawyers. He is advising domestic and foreign companies on M&A, joint ventures, corporate - commercial issues. Besides, he has written a book on Drafting of Commercial Agreements, has a couple of books in pipeline and trains students and professionals on Drafting Skills and corporate laws. He writes regularly on legal, business & other issues and is a guest faculty lecturer with educational institutes. Bhumesh holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Delhi and a further qualification in International Law and Legal Studies from College of Law, York.