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7 Professionals Reveal What’s Deeply Wrong With Our Workplaces Today

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ILO logoEditor’s Note:With #FutureOfWork, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz are coming together to explore the spectrum of issues that affect young people's careers and work lives. Join the conversation! 

In the coming decade, our labour force is set to grow by over 8 million per annum, mostly driven by the youth entering the job market. Hence, it’s important for our policymakers, more than ever before, to introduce policies that nurture progressive working conditions at our workplaces.

But what are those issues that really need fixing? We got seven professionals from diverse walks of life to tell us. Here goes:

Photo of Priyanka Tadipatri
Priyanka Tadipatri

Priyanka Tadipatri
Public Relations & Communications Consultant
Agency life is often glamorised to have a ‘great culture’ for ‘creative bad-asses’, where ‘everyone loves what they do’. But for me, there was a clear expectation-reality mismatch. I come from an engineering background and love to write. So, a technology PR job seemed like a dream come true.

Instead, I hated that 90% of my job was collating reports. It took me a couple of years to graduate to a role where I’d actually get to write. Secondly, as an entry-level employee, you need to make a lot of people happy. The difficulty is that it becomes an everyday thing. There are journalists, who do not want to speak to you and clients who do not want to listen to you. On top of that, you’ll have a team that makes promises that are impossible to keep.

In some other countries, PR is a highly respected job and companies depend on professionals for managing good communication, crises and making sure that their storytelling is interesting. But in India things are different. The industry is very short-staffed and highly competitive. I recall a time where I ignored health issues for weeks, so I could keep up with the pace; work-life balance is not something we think about at all. Last but not the least, most agencies pay peanuts, and individuals always wait for a corporate (client-side) job to move into a well-paying role.

Last but not the least, most agencies pay peanuts, and professionals always wait to move into a corporate (client-side) role, that’s well-paid.

As for me, I work independently now. And love it because for the most part, I get to choose the clients, and only work with brands I believe in. I have also grown my skill-set beyond PR to offer a wider range of services. And fortunately, I found clients that believed in me, and would also invest in me.

Dr Souradipta Chandra, A Flying Doctor
Dr Souradipta Chandra

Dr Souradipta Chandra
Emergency Medical Services/Medevac Officer With East West Rescue
As per WHO norms, there should be one doctor per 1000 population. As far as I remember, India has one doctor per 2000! Hence most hospitals are severely understaffed. Considering that our population is exploding and shows no signs of slowing down – India needs to increase the number of doctors, hospitals, and specialists, exponentially.

We also need to pay attention to working conditions in hospitals. In India, 24-hour work shifts (or more) are the norm. But if you’re expected to be at your best when handling human lives, you need to be adequately rested. I believe we should have 12-hour shifts, instead.

Secondly, we need to treat junior doctors as human beings. They are the ones bearing most of the weight of the hospitals while consultants make a grand two-minute visit to patients and then scoot off! I genuinely believe that if your team is well-informed, and you communicate among each other well, you’ll save more lives.

Another major issue doctors struggle with is hygiene; while hospital staff are to be well-trained in this area, there must be strict rules against spitting, littering and dirtying.

Our Government needs to realise that a healthier country is a more successful country, and to achieve this, not only do we need to increase the number of postgraduate seats, and evaluate whether we really need a quota system even after MBBS, we also need to acknowledge that doctors must have the opportunity to choose a specialisation that genuinely interests them (which is the case abroad). In India rank decides what you do; a skilled surgeon may get Microbiology, while a medicine enthusiast may be forced to study Gynaecology. No wonder so many doctors choose to leave.

Rashida Khan*
Development professional working on public health

In the kind of NGOs I have worked in, no one comes to make money. They come because they have a passion for the work. Having respect for that and the knowledge that your boss and team trusts your capacity, is the most important thing for me. Instead, a lot of senior leadership in small and mid-sized NGOs tend not to trust employees and therefore provide very little space for growth (this may not be typical to all NGOs but it is common).

Secondly, you may have your heart in the right place and the best of skills but being able to multi-task and deliver on time is critical. This may seem true for all sectors. But in the development sector particularly, the structures are not as clear as in corporates, and usually, everyone is dealing with and responding to a host of different issues, at any given time. A little more structure can be helpful, but not too much as then you function more like a corporate, with little heart.

Another major thing I have struggled with is the pressure to “be available” at all times. Most organisations do not have a system to recognise and address burnout. However, this is extremely critical as the work is very taxing – emotionally, physically, intellectually. Instead, signs of burnout are often seen as “weakness”, or lack of capacity to deal with pressures. Nothing is more from the truth.

 

Sherene Aftab, a lecturer
Sherene Aftab

Sherene Aftab
Assistant Professor at a management college in Mumbai

Ever since my college days, I have wanted to be a lecturer. Now, when I interact with my students, I feel like we are developing a new chapter of life together; I help by guiding and counselling them through their issues and questions, and they, trust and give me an opportunity to make a positive difference in their life stories.

While I enjoy every bit of what I do, a major pitfall is the remuneration, which is just about enough for survival. Sometimes lecturers don’t even make enough to support their families. This is unfair, and I really fail to understand why teachers are not remunerated at par with other professions. Better remuneration and benefits for the best in the industry, would only encourage passionate youngsters to seriously consider teaching as a profession.

I also feel that there is a lack of professionalism across the education industry. To help improve working conditions, colleges and schools should actively encourage teachers to attend seminars, do add-on courses and certifications. This encouragement should be in tangible forms. For instance, the work pressure should be relaxed when a teacher is pursuing a course. Financial aid or sponsorships of certifications is also a wonderful benefit. Additionally, I strongly advocate for better infrastructure at colleges – from Wi-Fi accessibility for teachers and hygienic canteens, to cleaner, well-maintained toilets for women faculty.

Dinesh Gehlot, Vice President Axis Bank
Dinesh Gehlot

Dinesh Gehlot
Vice President at Axis Bank

The financial sector is very dynamic, and there’s a high level of expectation from professionals at all levels. Achieving fiscal targets on strict deadlines is challenging because targets may not even be realistic! You also need to keep pace, on a daily basis, with new jargons, terminologies, technologies, and regulatory changes by central banks like the Reserve Bank of India, not to mention, then transfer this knowledge to customers.

Though the rewards are equally attractive in financial terms and growth, for those professionals who make it, expectations only rise, leading to burnout and premature aging. The fact is that not all people are cut out for this. Hence hiring people with the right competency as well as ability to acquire, learn and adapt to the required skill sets is critical. It would also help if the industry was more flexible, with more work-from-home opportunities, and

A fact is that not all people are cut out for this grind. Hence hiring those with the right competency as well as the ability to acquire and adapt to the required skill sets is critical. It would also help if the industry was more flexible, with more work-from-home opportunities, and

It would also help if the industry was more flexible, offering more work-from-home opportunities and also measuring your output with actual work done as opposed to the time clocked in. Lastly, all human beings need change. After being in the same job for a certain period of time, allowing professionals to be part of, or lead a new project, can help challenge and build leadership qualities. The finance industry is grappling with a high attrition rate, and by improving working conditions, I believe, we can help bring this down.

Carla D’Silva*
Communication Coach with a Fortune 500 company

When I left my first job, the Human Resources representative spent an hour trying to understand why I was quitting and to see if she could make the workplace better so I would reconsider my decision. However, these days HR don’t seem to care; if you leave, there are 10 people willing to work for a much lesser salary.

Another major problem is the lack of transparency when it comes to important decisions in an employee’s life. Managers get away with harassment because HR and ethics committees tend to be governed by spineless, unethical people themselves. I believe strict action must be taken against anyone who harasses or bullies their people, as it is only when managers and so-called “leaders” are made accountable for their cruel treatment of employees, that workplaces will improve.

However, for this to happen, HR representatives need to start speaking to employees in the lowest rungs and not just the managers, and hen they do, discussions must be kept confidential, which isn’t always the case. I once approached my HR with a grievance and voila, I was

I once approached my HR with a grievance and voila, I was penalised during appraisals for ‘skipping hierarchy’ and not having ‘interpersonal skills’. Now, why would I trust the HR after that?

 

Sanghamitra Das, Fashion Designer
Sanghamitra Das

Sanghamitra Das
Fashion Designer & Consultant

I studied fashion design at NIFT Delhi, one of the most premium institutes in India. But many reality checks followed when I started working. First, you are attracted by the glamour, then you realise how much hard work goes into it.

Another realisation was that our industry is super disorganised, not very transparent, and employee-friendly. For instance, there is a no structure in pay scales or rates of products. Many companies simply run on the whims and fancies of the owner, who is not bothered with the welfare of employees.

Unfortunately, our institutes don’t teach us about the labour rules. Hence companies flout them, even though international garment companies force export houses to be compliant with the laws. This spoils the way international people treat Indian companies.

All of this really starts to bother you as you gain experience. That is perhaps why I ended up starting my own solution providing company. My venture gives me an opportunity to help other companies organise their systems, better. My hope is that this will help make a difference in working conditions at these companies.

* Names changed upon request

Dear millennial, we want to hear your story. Tell us about YOUR career aspirations, the struggles and discriminatory practices you want changed, and your expectations from your workplace. Start writing here (and don’t forget to include hashtag #FutureOfWork!)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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