Work Life Im-balance

Am sure many read the title as Work life balance and assumed I had done a typo error …. No I haven’t. While most organizations have this as one of their “cultural” pillars, the reality is quite different.

What is work life balance and why is it important ? I always say during my town halls and other employee connect forums that “you work so you may have a life”. There are very few people for whom chasing targets, cutting costs, managing a budget and selling shampoo is the calling of their life. If it is, then by all means go ahead and live your passion. For Zakir Hussain, playing the Tabla is life, for Yehudi Menuhin playing the violin is life, for Sonu Nigam singing is life, for Gandhiji finding the truth was life, for Mother Teresa taking care of the needy was life, for Sachin batting was life, for Amitabh Bachan acting is life …. When there is no work involved, the concept doesn’t come in. We don’t say “passion life balance” because the passion of your life is life, you don’t have to balance it with anything.

All that you classify as work, are things that you do so that you can earn enough money to indulge in your true interests – it is a poor world we inhabit where just a handful of people amongst the 7 Billion human beings “live” their passion and don’t have the need for balance.

In the corporate world there is much talk of this concept because increasingly employers are realising that engagement levels are low when employees don’t get time off to rejuvenate themselves or are unable to spend time with their families. I want to digress just a bit and evaluate a cultural nuance here – working Indians do not understand this concept in all it’s glory 🙂 Am an Indian so I am stereotyping a population that includes me, and happy to offend my fellow Indians :). My father like all your fathers worked six days a week and countless hours each day and lived in fear of losing his job if his “boss” spoilt his appraisal – it’s a different matter that the entertainment options were limited at that time, but he never thought of entertainment. His philosophy was to work hard till he retired and ensure he built a house and got me married off into a good family without too much expense. I saved him the trouble by finding the man I wanted to marry who paid for the little extra that was over my dad’s budget for the wedding. Dad did manage to build a house and am not moping, he loved to travel, but would only travel on LTA. We have done Sunday trips to my cousin’s place in Pune and then official picnics in Shillong. I don’t remember dad relaxing ever during his entire career. Am sure the story of most of our dads and their careers is similar. Plus the need for security so a Government job was critical, private enterprises were limited and there you had no job security and so you worked doubly hard.

Come the age of liberalization and a multitude of opportunities with private enterprises. Our mindset did not get enough time to change, many of us continued to work six days a week and worried about our appraisal and entertainment, Friday night, weekend relaxation were always “western” concepts. Let’s not kid ourselves, most of our friends who work for Indian enterprises are still looked down upon if they took leave, or leave before the “seth Ji” does and when they do take leave and go on a vacation, they call in or are called everyday to check on “something” … Talk of indispensability !! And we like it. We like our phone ringing in the middle of a wedding while we are dancing with our friends, we ask them to be silent for a minute, try to find a not so quiet and not so corner spot, cup the free ear and take the office call, feel important as aunties and uncles say, “bechara, bahut busy hai, boss phone karte rehte hain, iske Bina toh Kuch chalta hee nahi office mein”, ok in English “poor dear, his boss keeps calling him, nothing works in his office without him”.

I have worked a five day week for the past twelve years and I refuse to change that for anything. I love working in Aon Hewitt because here when I took my first vacation, I was told to leave my phone at home and and that no one would call me. Work life balance is not something leaders just talk about with a faraway look in their eyes, they mean it and live it. There are pockets where colleagues may not see this in practice, due to some leaders not focussing on it as much, but eventually everyone comes around and gets “Hewittised” 🙂

Work life balance is about doing your work effectively in the 8.5 hours that you are at work and then using the balance of the day with your family and doing what you love to do – sing, dance, party, cycle, exercise, read, go to a movie, sleep, meet friends, learn a new skill, etc etc etc. Work life balance is about managing your work well, and creating backups, putting succession plans in place so that “you” are not needed to do everything. As Mohit would say “only when you as a manager can take off, will your next in line get a chance to flex his/her managerial muscle”, so taking time off is an important part of work life balance and building the managerial talent pool at work. My leave plan is submitted in Dec every year to my manager – my holidays are planned a year in advance and I have done this for most of my working life, very rigorously in the last twelve years as I had very short stints before this in other organizations. My first question for my teams is about leave balances and I know Geojo is cringing right now, because he managed this for me for several years and got lots of questions on his leave balance. Please let go of the mindset that you need to hoard your leaves, that it shows how hard you work, and then you can encash that fat leave balance – many executives don’t live long enough to encash the leave, literally and figuratively, because they either burnout or just die early due to stress. Fat anything seems bad !!

This is a long post, but I really want to convince the reader about correcting this imbalance. Work hard to create a work life balance. That boss who calls you every single day of your vacation deserves to be ditched !! Ensure you are the type of manager who helps his/her team plan their leaves, take their leaves and gets high levels of engagement in return. Keep your leave balance at a healthy, slim level by working it out 🙂

Now I will go work on a friend of mine whose calendar for the month of December is bothering me a bit too much :):)

8 thoughts on “Work Life Im-balance”

    • Rajesh, the reality is that the hospitality industry is not very hospitable to its own people … I have a very short stint in the hospitality industry but I remember how taxing the work was, very interesting if you enjoy interacting and serving people, but tough.

      Sent from my iPad


  1. Hey Bindu, very nice read. The point i’m taking it is that individuals have to take control of their own lives and corporate policies at best need only to be conducive to let people ‘live’ and not just exist. I’ve always wondered when fancy designations like ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ or anything to that effect is bandied about. I appreciate the intention but quite frankly certain things cannot be institutionalized. However a great culture that supports all this and more, certainly can be. And quite frankly that’s the only thing that matters.

  2. I went to UK on a 3 month stint in 2010. What i saw blew me away. People are in the office by 8am sharp. Breaks and interruptions are minimal. There’s nothing called a lunch break – everyone has a working lunch. Cafeterias and Cooler zones are always empty. People rush through their restroom breaks as if they have a flight to catch in 5 minutes.

    But above and all, everyone works as fast as they can. Totally amazing to see it all – 100% efficiency.

    Come 5:05 pm and there is not a soul in Office because everyone has completed their work, demonstrated very high productivity and got their plates clean! Office is over!

    Now we all know how things happen in India! How can you expect work-life balance?

    • You are right Vijay, we have some distance to go before valuing efficiency but there is some change in the Indian workplaces as well. With the exposure that organizations and professionals are gaining from interactions with MNCs and global firms, there is some change in thinking that is happening. Our context is also different – its livelihood, there is no social security and people try and do whatever they can to stick on to their jobs. Some of these things also have to change before we can get to the efficiencies that you noticed in UK. Thanks for bringing this perspective, its needed if one has to have work-life balance.


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