CHENNAI: Harish works for eight hours a day. Or so it says on paper. In reality, he starts his day with the first email he checks on his smartphone as soon as he wakes up at 6am. He responds to queries, sends text messages to his other colleagues, communicates with his boss over phone, has his breakfast and leaves for work. Getting back from work at 8pm, the cycle continues until he sleeps, mostly after midnight.
With smartphones and emails becoming ubiquitous in almost every profession, the line between work and home is more blurred than ever, leaving large chunks of hidden work hours – a fact that prompted France to consider giving workers the Right to Disconnect from work emails. Fearing burnout, the law encourages companies to prevent employees from responding to work emails from home. This also prevents hidden work outside France’s 35-hour week.
While a mandate for disconnecting seems a far cry for Indian companies, the effect of constant connectivity is certainly felt by people across different professions, with foreign clients, a competitive market and quick deadlines, putting everyone in work mode most of the time. Though burnout is felt by all, people in fields like IT also believe that such a policy in India is all the more difficult, because productivity requires engagement with clients across different time zones with whom one has to talk during non-work hours.
Easy sharing of messages and photos through WhatsApp has also led to the expectation of immediate responses, in professions ranging from design to marketing. “It is considered insubordination if you don’t answer your boss’ emails at midnight or a client’s WhatsApp message at 3am. Having worked in four offices, this unfortunately seems to be the norm,” says Sanjana V, an advertising professional. Youngsters, especially, are expected to work at odd hours, says Sharanya S, a city-based architect running her own firm. “It is always on the go now and clients want us to take calls, look at pictures and respond to doubts even on Sundays,” she rues. It starts with one text message but leads to an hour-long conversation. “There goes the Sunday lunch with family,” she adds.
On the positive side of the 24/7 mode of work, options like ‘work from home’ allow one to share personal responsibilities with the spouse. “Some say it is more productivity and more play. But I assume the trend shortens life span, drives up heart attacks and causes earlier graying and balding. If only we could do away with the smartphone, which is the prime reason for this ‘always switched on’ mode,” says Ramesh R, senior official at an IT firm.
But with better productivity being the focus and the increasing start-up culture, mandating work hours in a flexible setting becomes hard. “Since we are a new company, we are enthusiastic to get work and okay with odd hours. But when this becomes routine, it is difficult to manage,” observes Sharanya.
Divya G, a marketing person at a startup, concurs and adds, “Startups come with a lot of flexibility with leave and working hours. The other side of course, is that you need to be plugged in no matter where you are to help the team move forward. It may be a small review but it needs to be done. To balance work hours, we encourage disconnect for a specific number of days, rather than disconnect from work after office.”
Employees in the city are not without blame either, argues Ramesh, referring to the long lunch and coffee breaks between work. “We also think it is fashionable to come home late and don’t want to be seen near home when there’s still daylight. The way I see it going, I don’t think actively disconnecting is a choice I will see in the IT industry in India in my lifetime.” (Some names changed)
what they say
Varsha Swamy, Counselling Psychologist
Connectivity has made work more flexible, which benefits many, including working parents. There are often financial benefits and lesser levels of stress. But when lines between work and personal life get blurred, people need to set boundaries. People believe that if they are always connected, their boss
will recognise this but they usually end up getting more work
as they are always available. So it’s easier to change by
yourself rather than expect the firm to do so.
Aditya Shivkumar, Advocate
Disconnecting from work is very relative. In an era of smartphones, expecting people to be on email and WhatsApp is inevitable. But the balance between work and home needs to be a tact one must learn and not given as a law. If we seek legislation for every time human beings
fail to prioritise things in their life, we’ll end up with a
situation where there is a law for every action.
DR Sreyes Ravi
Technology helps doctors keep up with international guidelines, webinars and journals on their smartphones. Digital patient records and telemedicine has touched lives in inaccessible areas, and connectivity is no longer tough for even the pre-smartphone generation. On the flipside, snapshots of lab reports shared on apps can get intrusive at times when patients expect instant opinions. This is understandable, and we can only wish our brains were as multitasking as our smartphones.