“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” ―Hillary Clinton
“Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health, because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” ―First Lady Michelle Obama
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends, and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” ―Brian Dyson, former vice chairman and COO of Coca-Cola
Just this morning as one among us left for their home, ( a Noah and the Ark moment, as the dangers of COVID Lock-down, not COVID itself, receded, as the floods did in Noah’s time), I remember watching, what I saw as the negative example of the personal and professional life balance, for this member of our family, while she worked at home over the last 45 days.
I have always encouraged my team to NOT contact each other or me post 7.00 pm till at least 8.00 or 8.30 am the next morning, unless it is an ABSOLUTE emergency. Radio silence on weekends and holidays are maintained too. This is to ensure that ones personal life is not encroached upon by the issues of work and that everyone got uninterrupted time with the family and just for my colleagues to unwind. Clients, especially those in software, have the terrible habit of sending out work related e-mails at 12 midnight or some odd hour. Now, if you access that mail you will be distracted though there is nothing you can do at 12 midnight or 3 am ( the ghost and toilet hour). Else, you will get a WhatsApp message at any time ( coz these messages and e-mails are free you see) at all odd hours. I took it upon myself to tell clients, vendors, contractors, financiers that nothing would be gained by such mails/ messages at odd hours. I also blocked all clients who had this bad habit, on WhatsApp. When they asked me if I did block then, I said yes, I did.
When you work from home, not everyone is blessed with personal space. You are invariably in the midst of your family or friends. Can you imagine the trauma of a father /mother who gets chewed by their boss or some bully of a team leader, while they work from home. Where he/ she is seen as a larger than life parent figure to the children, they may have to hear their parents cringing or even crying out of frustration if things go wrong. How does it affect the atmosphere at home? The irritation of work spills into ones personal life. I do not believe it is healthy at all. Many youngsters stare at salary cuts, cramped spaces at the PG to work and all inconveniences. Bosses seem to get some pleasure in video calls when a normal call is enough. Invasion of privacy has been given a licence. To make it worse the expenses at home increase and the company doesn’t bear that.
Nasty bosses or colleagues think that working from home means that you are available for a quick call, strategy discussion etc at 9.30 or 10.00 PM. Hey, its the COVID lock-down, what excuse can you give for not being at home? So, why can’t you, my subordinate or my agent, vendor or anyone, answer my calls when I suddenly get a brainwave as I read the newspaper? Watching NETFLIX at night and a dramatic moment in ‘Fauda’ is being shown when a call comes from work. Done, the moment is killed, there is more tension now and you’ve lost the personal moment. Does that Boss care? Doubt it.
I personally find that people are more vulnerable nowadays as compared to the 20th century. We did not have technology and had to use a lot of our inborn or learned skills to survive or succeed. When we went home, we really went home. Our homes were our personal spaces and it was best that way. When we came to work we switched home off and when we returned home, we switched office off, with the exception of certain professionals like Doctors, the Police or people manning essential services.
I still remember the most amazing four years I had in Muscat with my Omani employers and colleagues. No one ever called you after or before working hours. If they did, they would politely ask if you were able to take the call. If it was your Boss, of course you would, but just that they asked was an amazing feeling. In fact, they never called even during lunch hours. I was entitled to a months paid holiday. In these holidays, not once did I receive or make a call regarding work. Before I left for my holiday, I assigned the jobs and that was it. People live and earn and have a good life in the Sultanate of Oman too.
In many ways I think the life work balance practiced in the Scandinavian countries is a lesson for all. People are NOT machines, they need their space. It is always advisable to stay at least half an hour traveling time away from work. I use this time to wind down so that I am not carrying over the mood from the evenings meetings, to my family. Of course there will be the odd occasion when you cannot switch off, but that should be the exception, not the rule.
When some high ranking fellows from the IT / BT/ ITES sectors talk of 75% work from home by 2025, I think to myself – the person has no clue. How did he / she reach that position in the Company? Work from Home is not good for individuals, families or anyone who wants a personal life. Do NOT agree to Work from Home ( WFH can mean something else too..think about it)
( We need to strike a balance between work and home and unless that balance is maintained, we will lose the ability to be good partners, parents, grand parents and maybe even great grand parents, let alone uncles and aunts. Forget that , we will be better at work too. Have a good June ahead)