By Karabi Mitra
Indians are known globally for the long hours they spend in office. However, this time spent in office does not always translate into fruitful or productive work. As a result of these long hours, work-life balance remains a Utopian dream for most Indian employees. The primary reason for these long hours? A late start to the workday that upsets the balance of the entire day ahead.
Many Indian employees, due to their commuting issues, prevalent office culture, and other factors have a late start to their workday. As a result, they have to stay till after 7 pm to finish their work. By the time they return home, they are absolutely exhausted and cannot spare any time for their families, hobbies, etc. In the process, the employee is caught in a vicious cycle.
It would be wrong to generalise and say that the above is true across companies in India. In several organisations today, work does start early, and employees have a healthy work-life balance. This is usually the case for larger MNCs and start-ups. However, they constitute a small subset of organisations. Even today, in most Indian organisations, work-life balance is only a myth. Employees work long hours, they continuously complain about their companies or their bosses, and their mental state is anything but happy.
When do other countries start working?
In West European and North American countries, white-collar employees have an early start, and subsequently an early end to the day. Although there is a lot of data available on the average number of hours worked by country, data about the exact time people start work around the world remains scant. European countries consistently come up in news articles for having enviable work-life balance, and data indicates that people usually start work by 8 am and try and leave work before 5 pm. In the US, people generally arrive at work between 8 am and 9 am. India is one of the few countries where work starts as late as 10 am. It is completely normal to walk into the office at 11 am and then stay back till 8 pm to complete work.
Why can’t Indians?
If so many other countries can start work early, then what’s stopping us from starting work early? A major problem in India is that the culture of starting work late is so pervasive across offices that only an institutional change can alter the situation. Even if people try to come in early and leave early, it is difficult for them, especially if they are required to collaborate extensively with others who continue to arrive late and leave later.
In certain organisations, leaving work early is often seen as a sign of not doing enough work. The employee who stays back late in office is considered more dedicated than others. This is an extremely backward mindset which must change. The number of hours worked does not translate into employee efficiency. If employees complete the work which has been assigned to them, there should be no need for anyone to stay back in office simply because his or her supervisor is staying back or demands it.
Imposing working hours on employees is simply archaic. Forcing people to come in by 8 am is likely to only antagonise employees. A better way to achieve change is to slowly change the company culture. Employees in middle to senior level roles should try to come in early and leave work early. Junior level employees try to emulate the leaders in the organisation. If the company leaders set an example of starting work early and leaving early, this culture will slowly permeate across all levels.
Employees should also be actively encouraged to make time for their families and hobbies. Mentors or leaders can set an example by discussing these with their employees during casual discussions. Talks can be held to discuss the importance of work-life balance. Employees can be asked to make suggestions on how they think work-life balance can be improved and then organisations should actively try to implement useful suggestions.
Coming into work early can have several advantages. It allows us to avoid traffic and get into work with a calmer state of mind. It allows us to get a head start on our work and get a bulk of it done during the first half of the day. This is especially true for people who tend to be more productive in the morning. Ultimately, work-life balance is important. It’s healthy to have hobbies and interests outside of work. This helps prevent burn out and keeps employees happy.
Karabi Mitra is a consultant at Accenture Strategy.
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