A recent meme about an out-of-office status went viral on social media. A European had signed off citing camping, while his Indian counterpart undergoing a kidney surgery signed off saying available on cellphone. The follow-up messages to the meme put forward a stark reality—workers in India never really “sign out” from work. In other words, the hustle never stops.
In its true form, a hustle culture puts work on a pedestal, often at the cost of personal sacrifices. It isn’t uncommon in a society where “work is worship” is taught from a young age that people believe a “good” life is one where professional milestones are encouraged and celebrated continuously.
But some companies are realizing that hustling might not be the true answer to a happy workplace. As the second covid-19 wave ravaged the country, India Inc. stood up for its employees, offering medical help. In the process, some firms also paused and re-evaluated their focus on employee well-being. The result? Targets are slowly taking a backseat and hustling is no longer a badge of honour.
Online brokerage firm Zerodha is among them. The company recently asked its employees not to respond to work mails post 6pm and on weekends. “It’s high time that we called out the negative aspects of hustling,” says Nikhil Kamath, co-founder of Zerodha and True Beacon, an asset management firm. “Companies now appreciate creativity and individuality rather than long work hours.”
The pandemic did shift gears at how we look at our priorities at work, says K.S. Bakshi, group-head, human resources, InterGlobe Enterprises. Ten months ago, the aviation, travel technology and hospitality firm started an employee programme, which included counselling sessions for emotional well-being. “Our managers and leaders have started rationalizing workload. Work is important, but not at the expense of one’s health,” adds Bakshi.
Placing wellness first
According to a recent Wellbeing Diagnostic Survey by advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson, 75% of organizations surveyed said they had a mental health strategy in place, compared to 29% in 2018.
“We are seeing an emerging trend where organizations are now not just talking about work-life balance but also asking employees to put it into practice,” says Vinod V.K., head of health and benefits, Willis Towers Watson.
Harsh Binani, co-founder of workspace solution provider Smartworks, could vouch for it. He is in the process of putting together a Wellness Taskforce, which will reward employees for their health goals. Mental health webinars, contests like best athlete, biggest weight loser, free personal trainers are on the anvil. “Even though we started this initiative in response to the pandemic, no way is it going to be rolled back. Our work targets have been extended by a month or two. There’s an uptick in people reaching out for counselling sessions,” he says.
At Walmart Global Tech India, lunch hour and Zoom-free time zones are sacrosanct and employees are provided with e-learning modules on mental health. Healthcare tech firm Optum Global Solutions has started sensitisation trainings, where managers are taught how to identify early signs of burnout. “We also provide them with the knowledge and resources to know what to do about in such cases,” says Pooja Bhagat, vice president (total rewards), APAC & EMEA, human capital, Optum Global Solutions.
Start-ups are also asking the go-getters to slow down. Akshay Rewaskar, account and sales manager with Pune-based safety solutions provider Safe Cams, can’t stop lauding about his firm’s efforts. “Despite being a start-up, the vision is not to over-burden any employee. We have been asked to avoid stress and follow up targets at our own pace” he says.
At software firm SAP India, besides numerous health initiatives, an internal portal, Are You Okay?, has been created with resources around mental health. “Covid has challenged us to re-envision our outlook towards work. A key essential in 2021 is our commitment to all-round employee wellness,” says Shraddhanjali Rao, vice-president and head HR, SAP-India.
To decrease workload, financial services company Mastercard shifted a portion of the work from India to other locations and has rescheduled deliverables. “Working from home over a long period of time can cause feelings of isolation, diminished collaboration and burnout among employees. So besides special leaves, we have introduced meeting-free days and rest-up afternoons to help our employees relax. Regular community check-ins, hangouts and virtual collaboration initiatives are also being conducted,” says Priti Singh, senior vice-president, human resources, South Asia, Mastercard.
Several reasons lead up to hustlers as heroes at the workplace. According to World Values Survey, a global research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, India is classified as an honour society where individuals value themselves based on how others perceive them. “This constant comparison with others forces us to do things, which seems right, because everyone else is doing the same,” says Amit K. Nandkeolyar, associate professor, organizational behaviour, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He explains how parents teach children to outshine others and that becomes work ethics carried over to the workplace.
Nandkeolyar, highlighting how hustlers thrive, cites a 2018 vacation deprivation survey by travel firm Expedia that showed Indians were least likely to use vacation leaves. “Even on vacation, it’s common to check mails, answer calls,” he says. Often this sustained work imbalance leads to burnout and attrition. “From the organisation point of view, it’s much better to retain promising talent than to lose them.”
A case in point is Gurugram-based independent communications consultant Anup Sharma who quit the corporate world when he turned 40. “My role had expanded and I was clocking in 14-16 hours a day. My work wasn’t inspiring me anymore. You could say I suffered from an early burnout,” says Sharma, who, at 49, is part of the gig economy.
Press pause please
Not surprising that digital wellness platform YourDOST has partnered with 150 corporate clients since the beginning of the pandemic. “As per a study conducted in December 2020, 84% of working professionals wanted an empathetic team and manager as one of the top requirements for them at work,” says Richa Singh, co-founder and CEO, YourDOST.
Organisations like Adobe have pledged no layoffs and conducted companywide reprioritisation exercise to ensure employees were focused on initiatives with most long-term impact.
Even in the Willis survey, physical and emotional well-being was placed as top priority by organisations, at least for the next three years. “Of course, different industries and roles would require different strategies,” says Singh. “But overall, as has been observed in the last two years, senior leadership will focus on employee health and no longer would it remain an HR practise on paper.”