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A Dilemma called Work-Life Balance
                                                                                                                      -Alok Srivastava

The latest buzz in the corporate world these days is Work-Life balance. Sweden known for its massages, meatballs and IKEA is one of the first countries to implement a 30 hour working week so as to improve productivity and better employee morale. A 40 hour work week for a full-time employee has been trimmed to 30 hours. On the other hand it is already illegal in Germany for employees to contact staff during holidays. Several major companies such as Volkswagen and BMW have also implemented their own restrictions on contacting employees out of hours. Last year, the German Labor Ministry banned managers from contacting staff outside of work. Car manufacturer Daimler installed software on its systems which automatically deletes emails sent to staff out of hours. Clearly all these companies are realizing that keeping employees happy by allowing them to spend more time with family is a way forward to success. This trend is catching fast across the globe but sadly India has to do a lot of catching up on this front.

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In India, success is measured not in terms of how much time you spend with your family but how much time you spent at work.  India probably would be the only country in the world where many organizations still work 6 days a week and 4 weeks per month. Companies which are working 5 days a week will always find an excuse to call their employees even on Saturdays on some pretext or the other - If it is a lean period the sales team is called to discuss strategies to improve business while if it is a boom period the team is called to take care of the extra volume of business. Companies directly can't be blamed for this practice as calling employees to work on a weekend is more an individual driven diktat by the head of the department in that company. Also all organizations can't be classified as employee unfriendly. There are many who strictly want their employees to stay away from work on weekends and if the boss wants to call the team then he has to justify his action to his superior. 

 

Over a period of time a work culture has evolved in India where spending more time at the work gets you the label of a dedicated worker. What counts in India is not the quality of output but the quantity of time you have spent on a particular assignment. I have seen so many of my friends who will proudly announce to all their peers and juniors that every year all their earn/privilege leaves lapses without realizing that their company doesn't recognize it as a parameter for performance evaluation. In such an atmosphere if you declare that you are going on a vacation suddenly all eyes will turn to you as if you have committed an unpardonable sin. If the vacation is all about travelling to a foreign destination it still gets accepted but if the vacation is about taking time out to help your kids study for their exams, the reason seems flippant.

 

So how do we move from a workaholic culture to work-a-holiday culture? We will have to start with a basic premise that "Work is important but Family is even more". Organizations will have to realize that taking their employees on a foreign junket for a conference can only motivate them to an extent but if the top performers are given an all paid 5 day/ 4 night package even at a domestic destination along with the family, it will motivate them to a much higher level. Employees should be told to consume all the leaves they are entitled to within that year and if they do so then they will earn some points which get counted in their appraisals. While organizations which are evolved understand the importance of a motivated employee and have a very effective HR policy along with a strong HR team, it is companies which are still evolving that have to pull up their socks. HR is not a department which helps you fill the employment form at the time of joining and monitors your leave record but it is a department which will help create a highly motivated team which enables an organization to achieve its objective. Just like your mother who will never allow you to leave empty stomach for work, an HR will ensure a healthy breakfast (employee friendly policies) so as to have a highly satisfied and motivated employee who along with a team will achieve the organizational goal.

 

To promote Work-Life balance companies will have to focus on two aspects which are the 2F's - Family and Flexibility. Companies have to realize that the more time an employee spends with his family the more he will be able to focus on work and better will be the productivity. The moment an employee joins an organization he becomes a part of that family and along with him his family also gets linked to the organization. Companies will also have to be more flexible. If an employee comes late to office because s/he had to attend a parents-teacher meeting at school, it should be considered fine. Similarly, the role of an organization doesn't end by simply giving a three month maternity leave to women employees. In fact, women need more time at home once a baby comes in this world. While the first year is about running to the pediatrician for the vaccinations, year two is about the crèche and year three is about nursery admissions. But life doesn't stop here. The subsequent years are about schooling which is even more challenging. So how about allowing women employees who have young ones to leave an hour early or allowing them to work from home for a couple of days in a week. At least they will be able to devote more time to their young ones. In the end, I will just conclude with "Winning employee trust is a must and companies who work towards it will always keep ahead".