Wednesday, October 22, 2008


It’s been a while since I have posted on this Blog and even while I was posting, it was spaced more than I ever wanted. Since writing is one of the things I genuinely love doing, this set me thinking about the direction my life is taking.

You wake up in the morning, jumping out of bed to come to work, not so much that you want to (jump, that is) but that you have to. You are already feeling tired, have not slept well all week – and that’s your story for your entire working life – and there is general lethargy. Unfortunately, you also happen to love the work that you do, it gives you a high. Unfortunately, it also takes away from everything else that you love doing, some more so. Dilemma, huh?

You sleepwalk through your morning, catch up on the news (its either catch up on the news and get late to work, or not catch up at all, you choose) take the car out of the garage and drive down 17 km to work – ideally a 17 minute distance – and it takes you anywhere between 90 to 120 minutes, and you do it twice a day!

You get along with your day, sometimes coasting through, sometimes struggling with, but you get through the 10 hr day (ideally, 12 hrs is not a problem spent on quality work, but then you already have provisioned for the 3 hrs daily commute). At the end of the day, you reach home, drained and disgusted. Take stalk of your time – 1 hr preparing to get to work, 3 hrs commuting to work, and 10 hrs at work, 1 hr winding down from work. That’s fifteen hours. That gives you 9 hrs (wow!) to have your breakfast (I mostly used to miss mine, nowadays I eat it at the traffic signals - necessity is the unwed father of invention!) – prepare and have your dinner and then go to sleep (Most of us supposedly need 8-10 hrs to just do this last bit to keep our Biological machinery in top shape) – Interesting or what?

That brings me to two questions:

Is it worth it?
If not, what do we as individuals, and the organization that we work for, do about it?

The first question, obviously has a spirited (or dejected?), resounding NO as an answer. To do what we have been doing and to get a monthly salary which either takes care of your day to day needs or an imaginary future and does nothing significant to add to your present, unless you count those white goods that you can’t genuinely enjoy or the car you’d much rather not drive as a value-add. Look at the irony; I work in a mad rush to earn money that buys me stuff that I would not need if I had more disposable time instead of more disposable income! I can only smile that wry smile.

We notionally own two cars (notionally because one is company provided and costed as CTC and the other one we are still paying an EMI); we notionally own a house (notionally because in an inflationary economy, we would continue to pay the EMI till we retire!). We own a Microwave and a washing machine and pay exorbitant electricity bills to run the same and earn more money to pay those bills. Unfortunately, with more time at hand both these equipments are unnecessary and the work that you do to earn that money to pay for them is also unnecessary and hence releases your time, elementary.

So very clearly, you need to work only because you love doing it, every other reason is superfluous.

So what do we do about it?

Firstly, my advice to organizations is simple, go beyond the superficial and genuinely realize that employees are spending more and more time on work or work incidental activities and the only way work life balance can be achieved is not by superficial HR (or Non HR?) actions like taking employees to picnics, but by more robust, thought through interventions which do not follow the lead of others but carves out a name for itself. Let me give examples. Once upon a time, it was thought that 8 hrs was a good time frame to work. It went hand in hand with issues like 8 hrs was more or less fixed, stretching was not involved, and commute was far more easier. When commute to work became difficult (and organizations added to the difficulty by getting further and further away from the city centers to manage costs) the entire difficulty was passed on to employees to manage from their personal time. I know of no organization which has said that owing to the organization being located at a distance of 20 or more kilometers from the place of stay, the organization has reduced (not changed) its working hours by 30 minutes? Not one. The improvement in productivity reflects in the organizations P&L and the loss of individual productivity reflects in the employees personal P&L, unfortunately, no one except the employee is required to audit that. Not even organizations which control the commute through their own services like buses, have thought in this direction.

Work life balance cannot mean balance your work by constantly giving up a piece of your life. When was the last time a work life balance programme was launched, which envisaged giving up a piece of work to balance life!

Secondly, my advice to individuals (starting with myself) is staying hungry. Ask yourself this simple question every morning - “is what I am going to do today dear to me?” - if the answer is “No” for most of your days, its time to look for a change. Go out in search of what you truly value, make the sacrifices required to achieve that and you will achieve that. Stop living the mundane existence.

As I keep saying, there’s more to Life than High5’s. Tough choices will be presented to us often in life and only tough decisions will help!

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