All work and no leisure.

All work and no leisure.

All work and no leisure. Political parties, IT companies Timings, Work-life balance. The verdict is clear that more Indians are seeking the elusive...

Would you vote for a government that promises a four-day work week and bans citizens working or even taking office-related calls after six hours of work on working days? Wish some political party had this in its manifesto! While that could be a bit far-fetched in the Indian scenario, a fortnight ago, the news of the French government’s new ruling barring its employees from checking work-related e-mails created a buzz all around the world. Considering there is a lot of discussion on the new buzzword – work-life balance, the ruling threw upon a discussion on whether working hard is really productive?
According to the European Union's Working Time Directive (except the UK and Malta), offices have to restrict the working hours to a maximum of 48 hours a week. German automobile company Volkswagen has apparently set its servers to stop sending emails to employees 30 minutes before the end of their shifts. Interestingly, both Germany and France feature in the top 20 happy countries, according to the ‘World’s Happiest Countries List 2014’ thus dispelling the myth that hard work means success and therefore happiness.
According to the Q1 2014 Employment Confidence Survey conducted by Glassdoor, a US job and career site where employees anonymously discuss the pros and cons of their companies and bosses, the average American employee (of those who receive vacation/paid time off) has used only half of his or her eligible leaves in the past 12 months. The survey that studied employee vacation time, how much they work and why while on vacation and other details found that only one in four take 100 percent of their eligible time off. Many employees are under potential threat of losing their jobs should they even go down a bit on their work targets.
Of employees who have worked while on vacation, one in three (33 per cent) report doing so because no one else at their company can do the work. Other reasons for working while on vacation include: fear of getting behind (28 per cent), desire for a promotion (19 per cent), fear of losing job (17 per cent), and wanting to outperform colleagues (13 per cent), among other reasons.
One in 10 employees (nine percent) even report a family member complaining they were working while on vacation, and six percent admit they have consumed alcohol while attending to work on vacation. The scenario is no different in India where many employees, especially in the software sector are scared of going on long leaves, lest their bosses or management should slink in that much-awaited promotion or hike to the other competitor who is present during the disbursals.
Even in IT companies which typically follow the western structure of streamlined timings, the Indian workforce often complains of how the company could be American, but the work culture is Indian which believes that hard work is a virtue, day off is a sin. An employee of a software MNC with Hyderabad operations, has confessed to not taking a single day off in the last 18 months, having worked even on weekends and always being on the call for his team of 35.
Then there are also some MNCs which go to the other extreme of sending employees on forced leave whether or not the employee wants it then, just to ensure that the entire staff does not go on mass leave at the same time in a bid to exhaust their leave, leaving the company to work on fewer hands at the year end.
HR experts say that employees should be proactive in using time off to rewind and recharge themselves to be able to return to work with greater vigour. Can India ever dream of achieving the work-life balance?
Says Rajkumar Gandrapu, Founder and CEO of HR Footprints, Hyderabad, "Of course, it sounds very employee-friendly. However, it needs to be seen in the context of societal and organisational culture; Is the society very ambitious? In which case, employees may like to stretch and earn more. In India, we have so many cases where employees use evenings and weekends to carry out assignments at personal level which give them extra income. Similarly, one needs to check if the organisational culture is driven more by productivity or time spent.”
“Another dimension to be seen is the nature of jobs; if Indian BPOs are servicing US or European clients, then the days are stretched. It is inherent in the job design. To offset the negative aspects, one can make the work environment more employee friendly with more conveniences thrown in. Even in the west, if what one does between 9am and 6pm is highly productive, it is possible to switch off after that except in truly emergency cases. However, replicating the same in India, may not be feasible given the work culture here," he adds.
Clement S Benjamin, Director - Co-Creation, Innovation & New Alliances, Corporate Education Centers India – Hyderabad, has a different opinion. "It’s not all good news, as workers will ultimately have to make up for productivity lost during such restriction and in fact employees may simply end up working longer hours during the week as a result. Subsequently employers will have to resort to hiring additional staff to compensate for the shorter working hours. This seems unlikely to be a particularly popular move."
Regardless of whether or not it is feasible in the Indian scenario, the slant towards work-life balance, even if it means getting a pay package of a few lakhs less seems to be the imminent factor when employees decide to switch jobs. According to a Deloitte survey titled ‘Compensation Trends Survey 2013-14’, better career opportunities, better pay and better work-life balance are the three important factors that dictate an employee’s decision in choosing a new job or retaining the current one.
In a surprising move in the Indian media, a cut-throat industry where being first matters more than anything else, the famed The Indian Express Limited which publishes The Indian Express newspaper from New Delhi, Mumbai and several other North Indian metros, decided to give its employees a bonanza – a five-day work week with two days off! Something unthinkable in the Indian media! Incidentally, the office is in the vicinity of other national newspapers of equal stature and although there is always the danger of rivals poaching their employees for some extra thousands, the five-day week is a big attraction. The work-life balance has definitely brought down the attrition rate in the newspaper, employees say.
Suma Deepak, who has been with the newspaper for over six years now, says, “The media has erratic timings and most of us don’t even get holidays on most government holidays. So a five-day work week is a great attraction and I am sure this perk definitely has made me stick to my job here.” After having worked in one newspaper in Hyderabad for two years and one in New Delhi for seven years, she finds it a big prospect.
Latest research on wellbeing shows that downtime, also known as ‘strategic renewal’ in corporate jargon, is a good mix of sufficient sleep, afternoon naps, day offs, monthly leaves, yearly vacations further the ‘lets-give-back-something- to-the-company’ trait.
A study conducted by Cheri D Mah from the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, showed that basketball players who slept 10 hours per night increased their three-point shooting and free-throw percentages by a staggering nine per cent on average. Another Indian study of 400 employees found that sleeping less than six hours per night and not getting enough rest at the end of working week has lead to employees getting cranky, hostile towards company and even experience burn out which is of great loss in companies that thrive on employee creativity.
Randstad India, the world's second largest HR provider with operations in India, released the Country Report 2014 on April 17 based on the survey of Indian employees to conclude that 41% desired a more relaxed work schedule as a motivation to serve longer in a company, while 40 per cent considered less working hours as a key motivator.
The verdict is clear that more Indians are seeking the elusive work-life balance and before they become dull boys and girls, the companies better wake up.

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