Sometime back, while deliberating on today’s work culture and suitable training modules, a Director of a multi-locational organization posed a question to me. He said, “Can you tell me why an employee doesn’t ever feel that he ‘belongs’ where he/she is working? What is it that you would suggest we do to make the staff feel that they are an integral part of the company and that office it is not merely a place where they come to earn money?”
I feared that we were on a philosophical travel and wanted the discussion to come back to the topic of training modules which we had been discussing. He gave me an example (in the Indian Context) “The new daughter-in-law comes to a new set up just because she is married to this man. She, as tradition goes, changes her name, and wipes out her previous identity in a manner of speaking. But then instead of getting lonely, she begins asserting her role. She begins clearly conveying what changes she is seeking within the household, encouraging new practices and discouraging some existing ones. Why can’t an employee who spends nearly a third of his life in the office do the same? Doesn’t it ever to occur to the staff (generally speaking) that the job is the reason why they can assert themselves in their personal endeavours…as a husband, brother, sister, wife, whatever and then the very well-being of their families depends on this “job?”
It has been almost over 5 years since the conversation took place. But that had set me off to find out what contributed to the gentleman’s statement. My company conducted independent surveys, did some systematic research, spoke to HR professionals, promoters of a few organizations, and even studied the changes that were happening in the Indian society in general and the Indian professional work culture in particular. The first thing that we noticed was that the Indian professional environment had drastically changed as the Indian shores were opening up to globalization and had seen a sudden influx of young professionals who had entered the scenario armed with business specializations.
This paradigm shift created a ‘do or die’ philosophy in the erstwhile almost laid back business practices. As the global practices began finding route into the work culture, concepts of multi-tasking and 24 x 7 availability of working executives via the internet became standard norms. However, we also realized that while the highlight was on performance, somewhere along the line the concept of the human element was taking a back seat. While highly professional HR tools were employed, almost nobody noticed the phasing out of this most vital element of the Indian social fabric. The ‘paralysus respectus’ for these imported models was so high that the human element was considered to be an outdated Indian idiosyncrasy and was often ridiculed. The earlier failures of organizations, that brought their practices here to India and tried to incorporate them without regard to the ‘Indian-ness’ went unnoticed.
When taken with these thoughts on the functioning of our work culture today, I always pose myself and others who might be interested in hearing me out, a question: “Why is this ‘today’s professional’ who is apparently so successful, always so stressed out? And why does he/she even on the long awaited weekends and during vacations behave as if there is no tomorrow, trying to grab at as much as he/she can?”
I always wonder if someone will give me a really truthful answer rather than the standard lip service about how much more stress & competition exists presently and how a weekend is really needed? To understand their view point, I went on a family weekend with other young professionals & their families. And let me tell you I felt as if we were on a roller coaster even when we were ‘supposed’ to be having a couple of drinks and dinner! By the time we returned, I was exhausted! And I am not saying there were any physically demanding activities…in fact there were none whatsoever! That is when one realized that presently we have become so stressed out in what is supposed to be a joy…our work, our profession; that we have stopped looking for joy in what we do! Has it then remained only a means to earn money so that we can have all the trappings and weekends when we all claw at what is available and ‘purchasable’? Have we ever sat back and tried to understand how we really feel on a Monday morning after the so called ‘weekend’?
Only last month, an HR manager asked me what can I do in the areas of stress management. She also explained that the organizations’ staff had obviously undergone a few stress management modules that included outdoor activities like rock climbing, and such other adventure sports. While such extreme physical activities are great stress busters, couldn’t small initiatives be taken at work to deal with stress better? Because while all these activities are good for the desired result, aren’t these ‘for-the-time-being-solutions’? Moreover, since stress is so ingrained in the work culture today, it has to be dealt with keeping a more permanent change in mind.
Shouldn’t stress management, like any other training, begin at the ‘Beginning’ with every HR Manager asking the question, “How can I turn every staff member into a ‘daughter-in-law’? I know the metaphor might seem far-fetched and that it is a slow process but then, an employee is an asset to be nurtured for a longer race.
Credits: Vishwas Vaishampayan ~ Creative Ventures, Pune for Never Grow Up
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