photo © 2006 Patrick Haney | more info (via: Wylio)
A lot of people have a tendency to over work. In my 6 years as a Software Developer, I have seen so many people, projects and even companies make a habit out of working long hours, working weekends and, worse, expecting others to do the same.
Everyone nods when you say health, family, hobbies and a social life are important. That people should have fun too. That there should be a good work-life balance. But so few really seem to believe in it and actually practice or even try to practice it.
The ‘Work-is-above-everything’ mentality
When I was working with my first employer in India, I saw a common pattern among fellow employees, a collective mentality towards the significance of work over life. People believed that work requires you to sit in office for long hours, that working on weekends is quite normal and that it is anathema to ask for leaves more than a few day long. There were always projects requiring urgent, long hours of work and there were always people who took this way of working as a way of life. Looking back, it looks like a vicious cycle of a botched up idea of work-life balance leading to long working hours, which reinforced the idea.
There was a lot of noise from time to time, regarding the importance of regular working hours. Managers talked about work-life balance, they said employees should leave office on time, but there was less to show for real effort and results. I remember once a senior manager had sent out a mail to all employees, telling them that henceforth, they were required to leave office by 6:00 pm. Anyone found working after 6:00 would be questioned. Most people who read that mail laughed at it, you know why? The mail was sent out at 2:00 in the night!
It seems to me that people, collectively did not believe in keeping work and personal life separate. There was a belief that company is doing the employees a favor by giving them a job and this favor is to be returned by working insane hours(without extra pay). There was also a lot of fear mentality about loosing jobs. This also kept people sitting in their offices till late in the nights.
Productivity at ‘Work-is-above-everything’ mentality
And did people work all these 12-14 hours, everyday? No, the actual work started after lunch, or even later. It was inter spersed with coffee breaks, and smoking breaks, and snack breaks and… you get the idea. The competency levels and cross training among such employees was very low, explaining their fear of loosing their job(they knew they were not good enough to get another one easily).
A different approach – Balance
Once I was in the US and switched companies, I found that a lot of people in the new workplace were more accepting of the sanctity of personal time. They worked regular hours and expected the same of others. They treated their personal life, and the hours they donate to it, sacrosanct. It was part of the general culture there, nobody talked about it or questioned it. There was no noise about it. It is not that all companies(or even all projects in the same company) were like that, but there was more of a respect for personal time in general.
Were they any less productive? In my limited experience, No. They knew they had 8 hours to finish their job. They started working as soon as they were in office. There was no ‘hanging-around-each-others-cubicles’. There were no long breaks for 10 different reasons. They were in office by 9:00, finished their work by 4:30 to 5:00 and left. Some went to the gym, some went to their families. some went out with friends. They worked and they had a life.
The faith in, and practice of regular working hours is more prevalent in the Western world. People believe more in keeping enough time for a life outside work. I am not saying it’s all well there. There are people there who work like there is nothing else to do, but they are fewer in number than in the East. In this regard, people here in the East have some things to learn from the West.
Why do some of us have this apathy and carelessness towards our own good? A healthy and happy employee is in the interest of all – the company, the employee, his/her family, society. And we all know this. Then why do so many people disregard this practice?
If you are one of those who work long hours, the rest of this post, and the next one, might give you something to ponder over.
How much do you owe your company?
There is no fixed worth for your effort, but that which you attach to it. There is no fixed effort required for a particular salary. What our effort is worth is what we think it is worth. For the same effort, some one else is making a lot more or a lot less amount. The amount of effort you need to put in is purely what you and your employer decide, through direct discussion or indirectly, by letting things settle into a certain routine. And this is not an easy thing to decide either. You might do something faster than other employees or you might be slower. Since deciding the value of your work compared to others is difficult, employers set a fixed time for you to work and pay you accordingly. If you are willing to work extra hours, whether out of fear, or reverence or whatever, most of them will say – Well. Why not!? If this is what you have been doing, stop doing it! You can change your routine to accommodate your needs and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, it is good both for you and the company in the long run. Healthy, happy and self disciplined employees make a healthy and successful company.
A lot of people here in the East, especially first time job holders, have a feeling, conscious or sub conscious, that they owe their company something. That the company they work for, has done them a favor by giving them a job. This is so far removed from the truth. While some company owners have some sense of social responsibility and philanthropic inclinations, they don’t go around distributing their employment among the masses. Businesses don’t run that way. When a company offers you a job, it is because, only and only because, they see profit in you. They find you competent for doing something that will help them do their business well.
The idea that we are supposed to work hard for our company, to return the favor it has done us by giving us a job, is a very convoluted, fear induced idea. Your employment with your company is a deal between you two that involves mutual benefit. In a sense, it is just like a business deal.
Does your employment letter specifically says you are supposed to work long hours, that too without extra pay? No? Then working long hours is not part of the deal. Period.
A real life example
I thought my company shared a substantial cut of what they got for me from their client. After about 2 years in their employment, I found that they were earning a million dollars every 3 months for the project I was in. There were about a hundred employees in my project and some of us sat down to calculate what we were earning in total. We found that our collective salaries could not have been more than $200,000 in three months. This means the company was keeping around 80% or more of the amount it earned through us! I am not mentioning this to show them in a bad light but just to stress the fact that you don’t owe your company anything. Your employment is a mutual benefit deal.
If we all revolted, asking for more salaries, would they have accepted? I don’t think so. Not to punish us, but because they knew they would find others to do the same work for the same salaries. On the other hand, if they somehow did not have anyone to do that work, they might have acquiesced. I am sure a lot of companies do this for important people. There is no fixed value for your effort. The effort you put in to your job and the salary you accept are both negotiable.
The same company, after 2 years of my employment, asked me to sign a paper. It declared that, in the event I left the firm, I will not join 5 of their rival companies for a period of 1 year. The rules in the business game keep changing. This is not as such a bad thing, their is no lying or cheating here, just the idea that business runs on profit. The nature of the deal between you and your employer will keep changing. They change their rules, you change yours.
Sometime people are at good terms with their managers. They feel like they owe something to the company for the good treatment they get from their manager. I think it is important to realize the distinction between your manager and your company. Your manager is NOT your company. Return his favors to him, not to the company.
In the next post, I will talk about some common reasons people offer, for working long hours and ignoring their social life and health. We will analyze those points and see what we can do for a better work-life balance.
To be continued…