Will Employers Reqlinquish their Digital Leash?

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In France, President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is about to vote through a measure that will give employees for the first time a “right to disconnect”. Soon companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours – normally in the evening and at the weekend – when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. It is an imitative that has been in the pipeline for months now and was globally mocked as a socialist move. There exist several press images of Government Inspectors snooping on industrious and hard work workers. It was largely panned as a move that intervened into the private lives of dedicated employees and growing industries that are making their break in a competitive environment. However, is it really as silly as it sounds?

 

The last 25 years has been dominant by great and rapid change. The internet and ease of access to various modes of communication has shrunk the world and has brought people together. However, as the proverbial saying goes, every positive is usually accompanied with a negative, the digitalisation of communication and transfer of information has significantly impacted the life of the employee. Use of laptops, smart-phones and internet is now a universal phenomenon and almost every working person has access to both. It also means access to e-mails is now prevalent 24/7 as opposed to 8 hours a day at the office before the technology explosion.

 

Impact of Technology Explosion

 

All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant. Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.

 

With the technology explosion there is now a real threat to the personal life of an employee. When you’re home, you’re not really at home and this poses a great danger to relationships. There is tremendous physical, psychological and emotional distress caused by a total inability to rest.

 

A survey by industry lobby Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India in 2012 showed that due to demanding schedules and high stress levels, nearly 78% of corporate employees in India sleep less than six hours a day, leading to severe sleep disorders. The survey pointed out that 21% of the people in the sample suffered from depression, the third most prevalent lifestyle disease, ahead of high blood pressure and diabetes.

 

 

The ‘So What’?

 

India is a country notorious for the little regulation in favour of professionals and graduate employees (anyone that is not a labourer). This has led to incredibly high work hours, working weekends, increased stress and discomfort in personal relations due to all of the above. It’s very evident that the employers have to take initiative on controlling the work hours of employees and ensuring that their employees remain stress free. A conscious and concerted effort to ensure that there is minimal work related communication off-work hours will go a long way in not only relieving the employee of work stress but also in improving his/her work creativity and efficiency.

 

A regulation like what is being passed in France will not be passed in India unless there is a serious uprising from the working class regarding work stress. This is an under-current of unhappiness at the workplace which does not get communicated to those charged with governance as there is a reluctance to speak about it. There is apprehension as to how it would be construed. However, as the adage goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Unless there is some noise made about it, it will continue to remain in a state of state decisis. Even if regulators fail to take notice, employers will take notice and will encourage activities for the welfare of their employees.

 

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Is Good Really Not Good Enough?

“Good isn’t simply good enough. When I stand atop my great wall, I would think, ‘The view is rather good… But is it great?”

The above quote is from a popular advertisement starring Naseerudin Shah. While the quote relates to product being advertised it is also a reflection of society today.

Society loves to discern and deliver a dissertation about a particular person. The media loves to build a person up and then bring them crashing down to planet at the first opportunity they get. And there has been a worrying growth of this from the general public these days. Bosses love to benchmark employees and tell them they’re not good enough because the other person is better; the same goes with siblings at home, classmates at class and people at work(celebrities or otherwise).

The media dictates every step of your life. Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabanna, Lacoste, Louis Philippe tells you how many abs you should have. The TV tells you whether you should be size zero or how many curves you should have. Starbucks tells you what coffee you need to drink to be successful, what suits you need to wear to impress the girls, what alcohol changes your life, an Omega watch will transport you to a different stratosphere. Everything has to be crisp, clean and perfect. That’s what the society expects out of you because that’s what society sees.

If it isn’t worrying enough that this happens at a large for adults, this worrying trend can be seen with children as well. Airtel Little Super-Singer, Teen Indian idol, Junior Singing Champion, India has got talent. The list of shows where kids are put into the spotlight goes on and on. It’s endless.

I’m not advocating complacency and being average. Competition is a good thing but competition shouldn’t be expected to be the start and end of it all. There is a place for everyone in the world and everybody happens to be pretty good at something someone else isn’t. Due to certain circumstances they haven’t had the opportunities to experiment with these and take it up as a full time job. Good is good enough unless someone sees the potential to cultivate it and amplify it to the next level.

People need to learn to accept the level of performance and focus on skill development and personality development of the other person rather than focussing on career development and brain-washing them into believing certain products or things change their lives. Believe in a person and root for them rather than rooting for how you want them to be. Genuinely want a change and work towards it rather than having a picture in your mind and expecting others to reach that benchmark. Good can be good enough.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

Obliterating the Walls of Perception

 

In a cruel and evil world, being cynical can allow you to get some entertainment out of it. But no matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.

 

Qualifications are prerequisites to introductions. Prepossession is a precondition to an establishment. A baptism of fire and travails is an exordium for a tenderfooted graduate who is seeking his/her first job. Wiping the grease off your elbows for what you get compensated for is not good enough and you need to go ‘beyond your call of duty’ to keep place at your office. Top lines and bottom lines are lauded and cash flow statements are neglected. Women who strive to make a name at a work-place are chastised at home by relatives. It seems the world has forgotten substance over form and these nuances appear to be the desiderata to get by.

 

I think it’s time to take off my cynical cap and put on a more rational one.
“It’s not what you are inside, but what you do that determines you”. Humans by nature tend to judge and classify. When you meet a person, you instinctively size them up irrespective of the purpose of the meeting. You don’t necessarily get what you see but ironically, we almost always tend to stick to the polar opposite of the wise old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It’s not merely lack of time that drives such decisions, it’s a change in the importance handed to such perceptions. A lot of people have realised the world is rapidly changing and there is a necessity for people to change and adapt to such changes. A large no.of people have put down perception issues are precipitated from the respective cultures.

 

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

 

A common assessment of cities like Dubai and Singapore is that once the initial shine wears off, there is a lot left to be desired. It’s normally put down to the nomadic and floating populous and the two cities not having an identifiable culture.

 

Culture is a word bandied about a lot these days. It’s important to preserve heritage as it saddles an identity and a story to the civilization. However, there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding between culture and principles. Cultural requirements are not principles. You cannot expect to ‘stand like a rock’ with regards to culture. If we did, more widows would be throwing themselves into fire (Sathi), more children would be getting married at the age of 6 and Kings and Queens would still be the dominant decision makers as opposed to parties elected through democratic processes. It’s strange how selective people can be with regards to culture. The culture issue is incriminating in India due to the vast heritage and melting pot of different traditions prevelant in the country. While a small part of the country is adopting a more contemporary thought process, a large part of the country neglects it in fear of losing control.

 

It’s important to afford freedom to people to make decisions that relate to them; only then will they have confidence to take decisions that relate to a larger group of stake holders. Forget forsaken culture in favour of forward thinking. Judge but don’t be judgemental. No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.

Employee Empowerment Will be the Next Big Thing in India

‘Karoshi’ is a Japanese word that carries with it monumental gravity. It means ‘Death by Overwork’. It is becoming increasingly clear, if not already apparent, that the dynamo for any business is not the equipment, not the top management, not the media; but the managers and the people who do the work. Without altering human knowledge, skills, and behaviour, change in technology, processes, and structures is unlikely to yield long-term benefits. Managing business productivity has essentially become synonymous with managing human resources effectively. To manage change, companies must not only determine what to do and how to do it, they also need to be concerned with how employees will react to it. In this respect, the role of human resource management is moving from the traditional command and control approach to a more strategic one. Yet through all the evolution of management ideas, strategic approaches, research reports and statistics, India still lags in employee empowerment compared to its developed counterparts.

 

A recent study by global travel agency Expedia, has shown that India is the second most overworked country in the world, only behind Honk Kong, working over 42 hours a week on average. India is also ranked as the 10th most vacation deprived country in the world as employees are forced not to go on vacation to remain in the good books of their employer. Alarmingly, even during the times Indians do go on vacation 94% of the people are constantly in touch with work – constantly checking the email or are on phone calls.  While ideally a work week should be 35-40 hours, Indians work for 50 hours a week. These statistics also fail to reflect the realities of a work week. While the employee may leave his/her work place at 8.00 PM, he/she carries some work home and after dinner or a break in the evening, continues to work for another 2 hours. There have been numerous reports all week by various dailies highlighting that 73% of the workforce in the country today wants to change jobs.

 

Statistics aside, the employee sentiment that anyone strongly feels right now is negative. People are not happy with their employers and the way they are being treated at work. This along with the fact that India is going through a very tough phase with high inflation, lower liquidity and lack of opportunities; have led to a high level of unhappiness amongst the India work contingent.

 

A handful of companies and entities have realised the importance of employees and have made many employee friendly policies but these are far and few and are not reflective of the general populous. There is no reason for companies to cut their employees slack as they have realised that most employees are at their mercy and they have nothing to stop them. Directors fire shots across the employee’s bows forcing them to cancel planned leaves, threatening them of rating them poorly. There is a significant part of the senior workforce that is bitter and overworked and desperately want this attitude to percolate to the employees who work under them. Too many times in the last few years have I heard people complain they’ve had to cancel vacations. Too many times have people felt coerced into burning the midnight oil with no compensation received. People are forced into booking lesser time in their time sheets to help Director’s get a better rating and hence a better compensation.

 

There needs to be a consequential shift brought about for a workforce that wants empowerment but doesn’t know how to communicate it. There needs to be laws brought in(which are moderately and subjectively enforced) to help control this ill-mannered and reprehensible lead people dominance. I can see this change happening over the next few years in India. And I can only hope changes are swift and implemented strongly.

Smoking Really is Cool: Irrefutable Evidence Disclosed

by Robert Davison

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Bahhh – the pleasure police are out to get us for everything these days. Call it the Calvinist / Protestant value system our modern day western cultures are ultimately derived from, but all that’s really expected of us is that we pinch pennies, subsist on lettuce and rain water, cultivate an appropriate glare of righteous disapproval and do our level best to never, ever enjoy ourselves. Never mind the loathsomely puritan obsession western society has with outlawing, demonising and severely punishing the users of any substance known to dispense any kind of gratification. Even the simple pleasure of placing an ignited stick of tobacco in our mouths and inhaling deeply of the rich blend of toxic chemicals, carcinogens and nicotine it joyfully emits, is frowned down upon as if it was the favoured past time of the devil himself.

Hey, you’re still allowed to do it – governments derive a lot of revenue out of those expensive cigarette tariffs – but only in the designated areas. Which is pretty much nowhere apart from locked inside your own cupboard while sitting underneath a ventilation system. The simple satisfaction of sitting in a pub or some other den of iniquity while partaking of your favoured beverage and puffing away contentedly on a death dart is an activity now consigned to the dustbin of antiquity. They’ll tell you anything to get you to stub your tab out. Lung cancer and passive second hand smoke and heart disease and whatnot. Well let me ask you this? Whoever heard of an Aztec warrior with lung cancer? Precisely. They even try to tell you that smoking is not cool. Well, here at The Grand Inquisitor we’re not having it. We’re here to tell you that smoking is, in fact, very cool indeed. Not only that, but we have irrefutable evidence to support our case, as you dear reader, are about to discover.

In order to ensure that our study is as non-biased as possible, we have taken a close look at two subjects. One of them is a smoker, and one of them is a non-smoker. Let’s call them Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Here’s what we discovered:

EXHIBIT A: THE SMOKER

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This man is smoking a cigarette. He is a smoker. He radiates an inner confidence that speaks to every onlooker: “I am a man of affairs and I am taking care of my business”.  He is surveying his surrounding environment with a steady and astute gaze. He is relaxed and collected in demeanor. His taste is impeccable, and he’s dressed elegantly without being ostentatious about it. He is appealing to members of the opposite sex. In fact, his problem is not so much attracting female companionship, as it is getting rid of womanly attentions when he has important affairs to attend to. As he inhales the heady concoction of burning dried vegetable matter and lethal carcinogens, coating his lungs with a reassuring sheen of sticky black tar, he reflects deeply on the nature of the world and of his harmonious position within it. He has nothing to fear and nobody to envy. He is a smoker and he is smoking. While he doesn’t have to draw any attention to himself, he knows that he looks damn cool when he’s doing it.

EXHIBIT B: THE NON-SMOKER

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This man is not smoking a cigarette. He is not a smoker. Everything about this man speaks of malaise and social incompetence. His body language is sending a very clear message to the world. It’s saying “Please don’t laugh at me or beat me up.” He gazes out at the world with a forlorn resignation. He’s a jerk, and everybody instantly understands this. He is devoid of taste, and selects his clothing inappropriately. His choice of apparel stands little chance of attracting members of the opposite sex. It is unclear if he will ever know what it is to enjoy the pleasure of a woman. Even though he has elected not to smoke for reasons of health, he doesn’t present any particular image of radiant vigor, suggesting that the health benefits of not smoking have been drastically over estimated. His disturbing lack of a definable chin speaks of a deficiency in character. He has been brow-beaten into not smoking by a puritanical culture that pretends to be looking out for his best interests, while in fact doing its level best to demean and weaken him. He is not a bad man. Merely a pitiable one. He is a non-smoker, and nothing he could possibly do could ever be cool.

So there you have it. The evidence presented by the case exhibits is not only convincing, but indisputable. We’ve been lied to. Smoking is, in fact, very cool indeed. So next time you’re out and about, spark up a dart. Enjoy the refreshing feel of the burning tobacco rushing through your lungs. Delight as the smoke tickles your throat with a phlegmy tentacle of death. Exhale a lovely, billowing cloud of smoke into the air like a fat, happy magical dragon. You know it’s good for you really. It’s not giving a good goddamn that counts.

The Illusion of Deadlines

“Stop the complaining, strap on a helmet and start shooting. Its game time baby and I want you to storm through work like its D-Day at Normandy”. Sound familiar? Probably not, cause I just made that up(after some tinkering of Ari Gold). But I’m trying to capture the messages that we receive when we are working on a tight deadline.

I’m certain almost everyone has suffered the predicament of burning the candle at both ends due to certain deadlines. The looming sword of Damocles has evoked several different responses from different people. Some have gone on to thrive under the pressure of a deadline and deliver, somehow have been indifferent and some other have packed it in and called it a day as they have cracked under the pressure. I believe it is wrong to criticize someone based on how they react in that situation, it varies person to person. There are numerous antecedents that go into kneading someone to become the person they are in a pressure cook situation; and a lot of these were out of their hands. Not to say someone cannot train themselves to handle pressure, but that isn’t the objective of this blog. I’m more interested in knowing the determinant of this ‘deadline’ itself. Is a deadline really a deadline? Or can it be extended by a day or two?

I’ve had the opportunity(misfortune) to have worked with people who harped on deadlines so much that it pretty much became given that it would be extended by a day or two. Deadlines lost the respect it had. I had this notion that deadlines were fictitious time frames given to try to get solutions like a bat out of hell. I’ve also noticed that in most cases, it holds true. Diligent conversations of understanding what your client/boss wants and explaining your facet of saga will grant you and your team a couple of extra days. So why does everybody still impose this zero hour?

 

I’ve tried a hands-off approach at implementing this thought process myself but I have had some fascinating results. More often that not people tend to lose sight of the objective when there isn’t a time frame in mind. Procrastination becomes an accepted quirk rather than a disinclination. People do not understand the importance of the milestone being reached and fret too much about the journey, debating over issues that would have never cropped up if they were pressed for time. As footballers say, sometimes too much time can end up confusing you.

 

Val Kilmer said “Without deadlines and restrictions I just tend to become preoccupied with other things”. And it is a quote the strongly rings true with me and a lot of other people. Deadlines are not meant to be the gong that signifies the end, but just a gentle reminder for people to adhere to it and try to not boil over it too much. Because beyond a point it becomes an opportunity lost and the work simply not completed.

 

Deadlines refine the mind. They remove variables like exotic materials and processes that take too long. The closer the deadline, the more likely you’ll start thinking waaay outside the box.

Whistle Blowers are important to us…Till they mysteriously disappear



A news article published in today’s Economic Times reported Edward Snowden flagging off to the public that there are significant threats to his life, as he had leaked information on the NSA and their collection of telephone records and conversations. For those who aren’t aware, Edward Snowden is a former CIA employee and former NSA Contractor Employee who leaked several top secret documents to media outlets and has been on the run since then. Snowden has been considered a fugitive by the USA Authorities and has been charged of Espionage and theft of Government property.

 

Snowden is just one example of Whistle-Blowers being under threat. History has shown us that while in theory Whistle Blowers are revered doyens of their field, in practice they are hurled into the spotlight of the public eye and are swiftly in constant peril.

 

Whistle Blowers are meant to be people who gesture to decision making authorities (or regulatory powers) about any wrong doing in their place of work. Ideally these people should be honoured for their courage and dedication to do the same, but that’s rarely the case. Whistle-blowers might be safe(sometimes) while in the limelight but public memory is limited and Media outlets don’t publish articles unless they get views, the whistle-blowers are then left to handle the situation themselves, or with little help. It’s a very precarious position to be in and even the thought of it is unnerving.

 

Harry Markopolos had discovered the Madoff Ponzi Scheme and tried to blow a whistle on it (almost 10 years before it finally unravelled) and no one listened to him. Instead, as the years passed Markopolos began to fear for his life — he carried a gun and regularly checked his car and house for bombs. He said that if Madoff didn’t silence him, one of the many people enjoying steady returns from Madoff’s “feeder funds” would. Even if some corporate Whistle Blowers manage to escape with their lives, they lose their employability. I mean, which top management executive would employ a person with a track record of blowing the whistle on them. I’m sure Sherron Watkins would allude to that. She was the VP of Corporate Development at Enron when she blew the whistle on a scandal that blew the top of the Corporate World. She had to turn to a new career of becoming a writer and a lecturer after this incident.

 

India is no safe haven for Whistle Blowers either (Well, Duhh). There have been multiple instances of threatening, harassment and even murder of various whistle-blowers. Satyendra Dubey, was murdered in November 2003 after he had blown the whistle in a corruption case in the NHAI project. Shanmughan Manjunath, an IOC employee, was murdered for sealing a petrol pump that was selling adulterated fuel. A senior police officer alleged that Mayawati’s government was corrupt and had embezzled large amounts of money and was shortly thereafter, sent to a psychiatric hospital. The country still does not have a Whistle Blower Protection Act. The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011 and has for over 2 years been pending with the Rajya Sabha.

 

You’re likely to be a proletariat blowing it on powerful people higher up the Corporate Ladder. And more likely than not, there will be powerful investors connected politically as well; and while on paper it would be ideal to blow on the whistle on wrong doing; practically people are not really encouraged to do so. Whistle blowing is a dangerous proposition that almost entirely shrouds a person’s identity and life in uncertainty, risk and danger. We can only hope that things change. But in my view it is unlikely that it will.