“I am going to travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. I am going to read books that have been waiting on my ‘must read’ list for years. I will learn new skills, visit museums, enjoy being around friends and family… In short, I plan to LIVE.”
My father ended his retirement speech. After a round of applause, tears, and hugs, I turned to my younger sister. We joined an already ongoing conversation.
“Weekend parties are the best, aren’t they?”
“Oh! Hello, here are my nieces, she’s a CFA and works for one of the Big Four, and she is the elder one. Married into a business family,” said our uncle.
“I am sure you can introduce me better, Uncle. Hi, I am an entrepreneur. I own a women’s fashion brand,” I said holding my hand out to everyone in the group. They shook my hand while looking at me slack-jawed.
“She comes back home at 1 am, just made a lodging boarding out of her house, I tell you.”
My aunt cut the tension with one raised eyebrow, nose up in the air, and nodding in my sister’s direction. “Some kids have to work so hard, while…” she said frowning in my direction. “So, will we be getting the good news from you soon, Pooja?”
This was my cue to smile and leave the group.
Being a professional, working odd hours, and earning a seven-digit package at 24 is apparently a big deal. Founding a self-sustaining startup under 30, and living life on one’s own terms is a no notice feat.
If I finish work before sundown, have time for my family, time to pursue my hobbies, and am under 60 years of age, I am perceived to be doing something wrong. There is a pressure to be a part of this office-culture bashing brigade and to add to #MondayBlues on social media till one reaches their retirement age. Don’t employees and owners themselves give character and personality to any organisation that makes up this “office culture”? Why are we glamorising this toil and showing off unhealthy ways of living today? I am proud of my sister and her accolades, but I really think someone somewhere needs to address this issue of erratic working hours.
There are experts around the world who will agree. Adam Grant of the World Economic Forum, and a psychologist from the Wharton School, Pennsylvania, supports a four-day working week. He tells me, “I think we have some good experiments showing that if you reduce work hours, people are able to focus their attention more effectively, they end up producing just as much, often with higher quality and creativity, and they are also more loyal to the organisations that are willing to give them the flexibility to care about their lives outside of work.”
I also spoke to Rutger Bregman, an economist, historian and author of “Utopia for Realist” about this. He says, “For decades, all the major economists, philosophers, sociologists, they all believed, up until the 1970s, that we would be working less and less. In the 1920s and 1930s, there were actually major capitalist entrepreneurs who discovered that if you shorten the working week, employees become more productive. Henry Ford, for example, discovered that if he changed the working week from 60 hours to 40 hours, his employees would become more productive, because they were not that tired in their spare time.”
Expecting a four-day working week may be incredulous and far-fetched. It could be impractical even, but how about addressing the issue of long and incongruous working hours?
I met my friend the next weekend for dinner, after a month. She works for an MNC in India known for its bonhomous work culture.
“We now have a 9-hour working day.”
“Wasn’t your CEO just in the news for shunning emails and proudly conversing on WhatsApp with employees to avoid delays?” I asked disbelievingly.
She gave a quick bark of laughter and exclaimed, “This is the usual scenario for the last two working hours, now.” She continued: “Picture this, a set of people staring blankly at the clock on the wall or incessantly and restlessly checking their phones. People in groups discussing what time they punched in and calculating how much longer it should be before they book a cab home. Most, like me, are Netflix-and-chilling by their desks to pass the last few hours after completing their day’s work. I am really into Korean Dramas now,” she chuckled.
How is this productive? How is this helping the organisation and its employees? We need to start giving importance to the quality of work rather than the quantity of work done. How about rewarding employees for completing their work and leaving office on time? Over-achievers should be identified for going beyond their work responsibilities and not their work timings; for excellence and not for toiling. I really hope we start giving importance to carving a full life while we work, instead of thinking we should start ‘living’ after 60. With growing life expectancy, here’s to an improved quality of life.