Work, Work And More Work: Why India’s Urban Workforce Must Slow Down

Tushar Gupta

Jun 06, 2018, 12:18 PM | Updated 12:18 PM IST

The urban workforce is spending too much time in offices and very less time at home. (GettyImages)
The urban workforce is spending too much time in offices and very less time at home. (GettyImages)
  • By 2025, more than 57 per cent of the working population would suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and tobacco addiction.
  • It is time reforms for the workforce in the private and public sector are given a serious thought, or else, we risk losing them to this silent ‘killer’.
  • According to a report by Swiss investment bank UBS, people in Mumbai work for 3,315 hours each year, longer than anywhere in the world. The report carried observations from 77 major cities across the world, including New Delhi, Moscow, Rome, Paris and Lagos. The report also found that the people working in Mumbai took the least number of days off, merely 10, compared to their counterparts in other cities.

    The report comes across as a reflection on the deteriorating mental health of the urban workforce. Assuming a six-day week, people in Mumbai would have to work for over 10 hours each day, minus the time taken to travel, thus leaving them with little time for themselves. Sadly, the problem is far bigger to be quantified in hours worked alone.

    Today, the IT sector faces diverse problems on multiple fronts. The boom is way past its peak. For a meagre demand for services, the supply is in excess. The days of generous hiring are behind us, and most importantly, India has failed to keep up with the research, development, and innovation in the field. To put things in perspective, a nation that supplied the world with software programs has today failed in constructing a data policy that encompasses trends in big data, security and analytics.

    The problem is far more severe at the human resources level. IT companies regularly flout norms and regulations. It is not uncommon to come across small and medium-sized companies in tier two cities like Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Pune and Noida that have professionals working 10-12 hours a day under "bonded contracts”. While these contracts have no place in the Indian law system, a lack of awareness adds to the exploitation of young workers in India.

    According to a report "Collaborative study between Chestnut Global Partners India and SHRM India to assess the impact of stress on employee productivity in India”, by 2025, more than 57 per cent of the population would suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and tobacco addiction.

    Stress is another major cause of the rising instances of non-communicable diseases in urban India. For many, disrespectful behaviour at the workplace, lack of work-life balance, no freedom for an opinionated feedback at the workplace, and inadequate financial returns are reasons to move abroad. In the same report, more than 25 per cent of the respondents from the banking sector reported that the excessive time spent in travelling adds to their stress.

    Among the respondents in the report, three out of 10 people confessed mental stress due to lack of family time, and two out of five professionals blamed the unfriendly work atmosphere in companies for their stress. In industries like IT, banking and finance, jobs are already on the decline, hence, young graduates are forced to take up whatever jobs are available. Given the concentration of these industries in a few cities across India, many are required to move away from their hometowns.

    For most people in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, travelling for two to three hours to work is a common habit, and with the public transportation system already overburdened, the commuters are left with nothing but an inevitable struggle.

    This struggle comes with its share of losses. Across IT, banking and finance, and travel and hospitality sectors, the total organisational loss amounts to Rs 49.67 crore, Rs 105.48 crore and Rs 10.5 crore respectively. The stress arising due to multiple factors at play results in lack of productivity, mental absenteeism, and often, physical absenteeism due to illness. Alongside, more and more companies are now finding it difficult to retain employees, with some quitting jobs due to excessive travel hours, physical weaknesses, and even depression.

    Forget innovation, the urban workforce in India has been consumed to an extent where achieving average productivity levels is proving to be a challenge. For the sake of this segment of the population that includes regular taxpayers, entrepreneurs in the making, and other skilled workers, an urgent course correction is warranted.

    So, where does one start?

    Human resources policies that confuse productivity with hours spent in the workplace must be discarded. While some jobs in these sectors will warrant a person’s presence for a certain number of hours, we must look at areas where digitisation can cut down on the number of hours spent in the office. There can obviously be no ‘one-rule-fits-all’ approach here, for each sector, and each organisation within these sectors, will have a different way of going about things, but to help the workforce, a certain degree of flexibility must be inculcated.

    Two, skill development is urgently warranted in small and medium-sized IT companies, where we have a thousand developers for one job, but data experts in a lesser number for far more analytical positions. Companies can collaborate with universities they annually recruit from in order to curate skill development initiatives.

    Three, sessions must be held to increase awareness about non-communicable diseases in urban workplaces. There must be sincere efforts to make workplaces more inclusive for females through better facilities, policies, and creches for their children. Many corporate giants are leading by example when it comes to improving the workplace inclusiveness for both genders, but these efforts must be replicated within the smaller companies, where the bigger problems lie.

    Four, the evaluation for any professional should be centred around performance. It’s better to have a working brain for four hours in office than a non-working one for eight hours. The aim should be to hold workers accountable, improve their efficiency, and enhance their productivity.

    Five, discriminatory policies linked to maternity must go. While the government must be credited for helping women with a six-month paid maternity leave, it has led to women in the age group of 25-35 being discriminated against as employers see them as an obligation. Thus, the government can move to introduce a ‘collaborative’ parental leave of nine months that can be shared between the couple according to their convenience.

    If the above policies are implemented, workers will achieve more flexibility in their jobs, thus leading to more family time, aiding better personal care. Two, with better work-life balance, many workers would be inspired to take up skill development at a personal level through various online and offline channels. Three, gradually, the workforce could start generating some degree of innovation in their respective domains, and from searching for jobs the norm changes to creating them.

    Many employees may look to misuse the flexibility being offered, and hence, a performance-based evaluation must be made mandatory. Two, not everyone would be able to get the work location of their choice, but the idea should be to help as many willing workers as possible. Three, none of these changes should hamper the financial returns, operational efficiency, and sustainability of a company, thus it would be necessary to strike a balance.

    It is time reforms for the workforce in the private and public sector are given a serious thought, or else, we risk losing them to this silent plague.

    Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_

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