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Posts Tagged ‘Work Life Balance’

Call of the Vedas

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Me, my work, my life. Off balance. What is wrong?   

Today, my work and life are not in balance. I spend long hours at work to eke out a pay check, to fulfill career ambition or just to make more money. Then I spend considerable time in commuting to and from work. I return home physically and mentally exhausted. I microwave the frozen left overs from the fridge, nibble on the meal as I check my iPhone for emails, text messages and missed calls. Work place conflicts, project dead-lines, job security fears – all these weigh in my mind as  I mechanically play with my three year old son for a few minutes, then move over, open up my laptop and immerse myself in work to meet project dead-lines, to please my boss or just to hang on to the job I have. After a short, inadequate and fitful sleep, I wake up…

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Vision and Mission Statements of corporates adorn their walls and can be readily copied. However, the value system of an organization is not something which can be copied very easily. It permeates the entire organization – its hierarchy, its various divisions or departments. It rubs off on most of its employees. Even service providers and supporting manufacturers get tuned to the same frequency.

Our youth are already reeling under the impact of latest technologies being unleashed on the unsuspecting work-force with gay abandon, leading to drastic changes in the skills required to survive and do well in the times to come. Were they to decide to join an owner-driven smaller business, it would be wise on their part to be aware of the nature of values that such outfits could be following.

Those who get hired by such businesses are the ones who offer willing service and selfless cooperation, even to the extent of taking pay cuts when they are told that business is in the red. They need to be quiet, respectful and deferential by nature. They need to have an adventurous outlook on life and be always prepared to receive a pink slip at a very short notice.

Employees are expected to be timid and behave like worms endowed with a backbone made of cottage cheese. Smarter ones who have backbones made of sterner stuff would be inclined to look for greener pastures within a few months of joining up. Those who somehow survive longer would soon find getting hauled out unceremoniously, much like worms found floating on top of a bowl of chicken soup meant for the Lion King.

While entering the company campus, the employees find it worth their while to leave their ego at the main gate. A doormat-like behaviour alone ensures that they do not suffer the spiritual anguish like that of the person who, having grown accustomed to opening the crackling salary envelope on the first day of each month, reaches out for it one day and finds it empty.

When asking for leave, they need to deploy tact and delicacy. Long vacations are obviously ruled out, simply because the stiff-upper-lip visage of the Lion King simply discourages such inane requests, work-life balance be damned.

The proceedings are invariably of a nature as to create an inferiority complex amongst its employees. Whenever anything goes wrong, even if the decision had emanated from either the Lion King or a member of his family, they willingly take the rap and get frequently ticked off by the top brass. Over time, they start resembling one of the more shrinking and respectful breeds of rabbit.

One of the values which some owner-driven companies find difficult to imbibe is that of respecting its people. Employees often get treated like chattel, getting hired and fired based on assessments made either in the bedroom or on the dining table of the owner’s abode. If the mood of the Lion King fluctuates in tandem with either the Dow Jones Index or the Sensex, the employees feel as if they are always on a roller coaster ride.

An incoming employee is never permitted to meet the outgoing one, thereby ensuring that negative vibes do not get passed on from the latter to the former. Inevitably, this ensures that past experience continues to get lost. Continuity in systems and procedures becomes a victim. Each incumbent keeps trying to reinvent the wheel.

When a meeting gets called, the Lion King alone presides. When he throws out a statement of opinion, a respectful silence prevails. He looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Sheep to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the middle-rung Yes-Sheep and then the junior Yes-Sheep. Then the turn of all the Nodder-Dormice comes. They simply nod, one after the other.

When the Lion King delineates a new business plan, he merely informs. He directs the Marketing-Monkeys, the Production-Bovines and the Supply-Chain-Management-Goats to get down to their respective tasks without delay. The Human-Resources-Canines are told to take care of their part of the work, while the Finance-Felines are told to keep a sharp eye on the collections against invoices raised by the Marketing-Monkeys. The Research-Pachyderms are exhorted to keep coming up with innovative products and services. The System-Giraffes are advised to ensure that the high-hanging fruits of the latest advances in technology are made available to the team. The Liaison-Fox is tasked to see that all regulatory permissions are in place well within due time.

Working in a smaller outfit has some unique perks as well. Besides being able to observe the core business processes at a close quarter, one is apt to face mighty challenges, thereby growing spiritually. One can pretty soon evolve into a Spiritual Manager who practices detachment and handles tough situations with alacrity and equanimity.

Peter Drucker, the renowned management expert, has this to say about imbibing spiritual values:

‘The individual needs the return to spiritual values, for he can survive in the present human situation only by reaffirming that man is not just a biological and psychological being but also a spiritual being, that is creature, and existing for the purposes of his Creator and subject to Him.’

Different organizations sport different cultures, presenting an interesting rainbow of values. The most prominent colour in such parabolas of joy happens to be black, denoting profits. The most disliked colour is obviously red, a prospect which leaves many a business owner and CEO cold in the feet and shuddering.

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Vacations

Not to be neglected. Do not give in to the temptation of believing that the whole organization would collapse in your absence. Plan for the same in advance and delegate while keeping your boss updated. You would be surprised to find that your team turned in a better performance while you were away to the Bahamas.

Companies like Daimler which facilitate a real ‘off’ from office would win in the long run. Incoming mails get deleted from your inbox and get diverted to someone else.

Before going off on vacation, an auto-reply mail along the following lines may come in handy:

‘Hi, I am on the Mars these days, missing Wi-Fi or cell signal, shall get in touch once I am back!’

The absence of a good manager is never felt, because his team is trained up so very well!

(Excerpt from my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, the English version of which was released recently. The Portuguese version of the excerpt follows.)

FÉRIAS

Não devem ser negligenciadas. Não ceda à tentação de acreditar que toda a organização entrará em colapso na sua ausência. Planeie as férias com antecedência e delegue as tarefas, mantendo o seu chefe informado. É capaz de ficar surpreendido ao constatar que a sua equipa teve um desempenho
melhor quando você estava ausente nas Bahamas.

Empresas como a Daimler, que facilitam um verdadeiro ‘desligar’ do escritório, ficam a ganhar no longo prazo. Os e-mails recebidos são apagados da sua caixa de entrada e reencaminhados para outro colega.

Antes de ir para férias, convirá redigir um e-mail de resposta automática, mais ou menos deste tipo:

“Olá, atualmente estou em Marte, sem Wi-Fi, nem rede detelemóvel. Entrarei em contacto consigo quando regressar!”

A ausência de um bom executivo nunca é sentida porque a sua equipa está muito bem treinada!

(This is how you can lay your hands on the Portuguese version of the book, launched in Portugal during March, 2016.)

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WORK-LIFE BALANCECXOs of today operate in a hyper-competitive, fast-paced world. Round the clock connectivity gives them a great advantage – of being always accessible. However, it also takes a heavy toll. Making time for personal commitments poses a serious challenge; so does the absence of introspection as to where their own life and career is headed.

Here are some simple and do-able tips for CXOs to keep driving in the fast lane, with a clear view of the horizon and occasional stopovers in the sunlit valleys of life. In other words, to achieve the delicate goal of better work-life harmony.

Family time IS important

If you happen to be in station, earmark a time of the day which is exclusively for the family. Could be breakfast time. Could be dinner time. Make sure your international calls and Skype conferences are scheduled in such a way as to not to impinge on to this time.

Treat your weekly off days with the respect they deserve. Do not allow yourself the luxury of driving over to your office on such days.

Avoid sweating over small stuff

Small stuff is important. But you do have team members who take care of the minute details. Guide them, by all means. Do not get directly involved. You would only get blamed for micro-managing.

Prioritize well. Prioritize in advance. Follow Bhagavad Gita, which exhorts us to render our duties faithfully, guided not by desired results but by imperatives of the tasks themselves.

Check if you suffer from a decision fatigue. Put routine decision-making in an auto-pilot mode. This is bound to free up lot of your time which could be used more productively.

Managing technology

Let your biological age not bog you down. Learn and use technology in such a manner as to ensure some breathing space for yourself. That is when you will feel connected to terrestrial life outside your extra-terrestrial universe of work.

Technology can enable you to be virtually present at different places in different time zones. It can also enable you to be connected to anything critical happening which you genuinely feel might need your intervention. Use technology to delegate better and more effectively.

Schedule your priorities

Time is a finite resource. Use it intelligently. Engage when necessary; take a break when required. Meaningful interactions with family and close friends could leave you well charged up for the tasks ahead. Productive discussions with clients and professionals can help in resolving issues more effectively.

Excellence needs the fuel of passion. When passion drives your professional journey, constraints become less formidable. Tasks cease to become chores. Wise scheduling of your priorities results into excellence.

From IQ and EQ, on to SQ

Give your overworked brain some rest. Try using your heart to decide upon an issue. You will notice that improving your Spiritual Quotient would improve your performance. Small doses of gratitude and compassion help. Being aware of yourself and being conscious of what is happening within you helps. Humility helps. Developing equanimity helps.

Happiness and contentment within is great to have. You end up radiating it to those around you. Harmony in the work atmosphere improves. Output of the whole group improves.

You might find that IQ, EQ and SQ are like the spokes in the wheel of life, of which career is but one component. If all are equally developed, the wheel does not wobble – it runs smoothly.

A non sequitur?!

Before I sign off, allow me the liberty to pose a question. By hyphenating ‘work’ and ‘life’, are we not demeaning life? While chugging through our careers, we could honestly believe that work is much greater than life. In fact, it is merely a part of life. A subset, which needs to be in harmony with all other aspects of the multi-hued experience we call life. Perhaps, it is time to correct our perspective.

My proposal is this. Next time round, do not think about work-life harmony. Think only about achieving a state of harmony between the work-sphere of your life and the other spheres of your life – family, friends, hobbies, and the like.

When the conductor of an opera gets on to the stage to produce music that touches our souls, what he strives for is excellence, based on harmony. A discordant note from a single cello could ruin the performance. Likewise, all CXOs strive to get desired results, based on a harmony – between different managerial functions, between the organization and its various stakeholders and, above all, between the different constituents of their own lives.

So, how do you achieve this state of harmony? Would you like to share some insights?

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Having settled back in the shadow of the Alps yet again, I am filled with a sense of exhilaration and awe. The heat of India has got replaced by the chill of melting snow. TheSwiss Zermatt dust has given way to fresh air which is invigorating. In the cobbled streets, litter is missing. The greenery and the snow-capped mountains are a relief for the eyes. The ears are just about getting used to the soothing silence which has replaced the relentless honking on Indian roads. Courtesy in public spaces is once again leaving me dumbstruck.

But the stark contrasts do not end at the physical level. There are differences in the mental make up. The value systems which govern our behavior appear to be differently configured. The forces of nature and nurture which have shaped our personalities are quite different.

East and West can both learn quite a few things from each other.

What Indians can learn from the West

  • Respecting the Public Good

In the West, we find better respect for the public good. For instance, public spaces are cleaner and drivers on roads are courteous. On the contrary, in India, we keep our houses values cartoon corruptionclean and water our gardens everyday – but, when we go to the beach front, we litter the place with gay abandon.

In an office setting, a friendly colleague could get chastised for being careless on a project. In India, a criticism would either not be made – so it may not hurt the feelings of a friend – or taken personally by the recipient.

Corruption is another manifestation of the same lack of concern for the common good. Society is relatively corruption free in the West. In India, corruption, tax evasion, cheating and bribery have become a part of daily routine.

Apathy towards solving problems which affect the ordinary citizen is another dimension. In the West, people form groups to solve common problems in a proactive manner. In India, we see serious problems around us but do not try to solve them. We either believe that the problems do not impact us directly, or it is for someone else to resolve the issues.

  • Openness to Learning

If we have to progress, we have to change this attitude, listen to people who have performed better than us, learn from them and perform better than them. In India, we appear to have perfected the art of rationalizing our failures and explaining them off by misquoting our scriptures. We are good at finding excuses to justify our incompetence, corruption, and apathy. This attitude will not do.

  • Accountability based on the RoleAccessibility

Another interesting attribute that we Indians need to learn from the West is that of accountability. Irrespective of your position, in the West, you are held accountable for what you do. However, in India, the more ‘important’ you are, the less answerable you are.

Organizations whose top honchos indulge in illicit relations with their team members need to be pulled up and acted against as firmly as a junior cashier who siphons off money from the till.

  • Dignity of Labor

Dignity of labor is an integral part of the Western value system. In the West, each person is proud about his or her labor that raises honest sweat. On the other hand, in India, we have a mindset that respects only supposedly intellectual work.

A peon deserves as much respect as a Head of the Department. CEOs whose fragile egos are shaken by someone else parking his/her car in the normal slot needs to do some introspection.

  • Discriminating between Intimacy and Friendliness

Indians tend to become intimate even without being friendly. They ask favors of strangers without any hesitation. Rudyard Kipling once said: A westerner can be friendly without being intimate while an easterner tends to be intimate without being friendly.

Those who have worked as expatriates in another cultural setting would readily attest to this.

  • A Professional ApproachWORK-LIFE BALANCE

In India, more than 70% of the time of senior managers is spent on follow-ups; just ensuring that what is committed is indeed delivered. Delays are easily explained, and so are cost over-runs. Keeping a person unduly waiting is a sure sign of seniority in an Indian organization.

Here is yet another lesson to be learnt from the West – that of professionalism in dealings. Managements in the West ensure better work-life balance for their employees.

What the West can learn from India

  • Loyalty towards FamilyZOMBIES

Indians are part of a culture which has deep-rooted family values. We have tremendous loyalty to the family. For instance, parents make enormous sacrifices for their children. They support them until they can stand on their own feet. On the other side, children consider it their duty to take care of aged parents.

In organizations, we often find executives who are competent as well as extremely loyal. Also, respect for seniors is deeply ingrained in the system. There are times when juniors find it tough to take independent decisions. Very few are adept at registering a dissent with their seniors. Successful organizations have a culture which is designed to overcome such handicaps.

  • Family: A Critical Support Mechanism

One of the key strengths of Indian values is the presence of so much love and affection in the family life. In India, families act as a critical support mechanism for employees. Thus, resilience is better.

In the West, it is common to have break-ups when the career prospects of a manager nosedive. This adds to the stress experienced by a manager. Mental disorders present a much greater challenge. Predominantly, life has a materialistic approach, leading to a vacuum within.

  • Managing Chaos

Indians have improved upon the art of managing chaos and disorder. Even in high entropy situations, Indians tend to keep their nerve. Perhaps, this leads to better levels of perseverance as well.

Successful management of a human congregation like the Kumbh Mela is but one example of this trait.

  • Facing Adversity with EquanimityFeatured Image -- 1211

Upbringing steeped in religion and spirituality enables an average Indian to face adversity and failures with equanimity.

Learning from Different Value Systems

Values are like mountains. They have survived for centuries and shall continue to do so much after we have kicked the bucket. Universal common denominator is that of, say, love and affection. Over and above that, value systems differ across continents and cultures. When it comes to values, every culture has its own Unique Selling Proposition.

In this age of globalization and connectivity, mingling of diverse cultures is bound to happen. Learning from other value systems and adapting their good features is the only way to enable humanity to realize its full potential faster and better.

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Here are some key ideas which emerged at a National Seminar on Industrial Safety, Health and Environment organized by the Regional Labour Institute, Chennai and the Madras Management Association recently at Pondicherry in India.  

  • Businesses today face three kinds of challenges:
  1. Increasing digitization and the spread of internet which is fundamentally changing the way a    business interacts with its customers and suppliers.
  2.  As the world’s economic power and consumption of goods and services gradually shifts from the developed world to Asia, a host of new business opportunities present themselves.
  3. A value-based culture which takes into account socio-economic realities is becoming increasingly necessary to succeed in business. Businesses have the choice of being proactive while shaping future policies and goals. In the long run, this would avoid their facing pressure from either the community, or the government or the society at large. DSC_4999
  • Growth in business has to be consistent, competitive and profitable. A business also has to be socially relevant. A renewed emphasis on S-H-E alone can achieve this.
  • Following the tenets of S-H-E is not only about companies creating a separate Department to drive these goals. It is also about better regulatory compliance. It is also about calculating the carbon foot print. It is also about a change of attitude. It is about putting people and planet alongside the drive for profits. DSC_5025
  • Unless companies imbibe a culture which encourages all managers and executives to work together to achieve their goals by adopting sustainable methods, continuous growth may be difficult to achieve. Ensuring safety of all concerned is an important responsibility of the business. Many business leaders realize that a healthy employee contributes better. Work-life balance needs to be taken care in such a way that the employees are always happy as well as healthy. Businesses also need to ensure that they give back to Mother Earth more than what they draw from it. taking care of environment is an important issue which facilitates sustained growth.DSC_5109
  • All over the world, businesses are gearing up to ensure that their operations take place on a sustainable basis. There are already companies which have started reporting Environmental P&L Accounts.
  • In India, the government is now talking of shifting subsidies from chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizers. MNCs like BASF are talking about Product Stewardship, meaning compliance right through the entire supply chain to its end-use customers. DSC_5124
  • According to a recent study done by KPMG, India has emerged as a leader in the field of sustainability reporting. In the Asia-Pacific region, India has recorded the highest growth in sustainability reporting since 2011 – 53%. Chile is the next, with 46% increase, followed by Singapore (+37%), Australia (+25%), Taiwan (+19%) and China (+16%).
  • The safety of an employee should also cover the duration he or she is not on duty. The concept needs to be extended to the life outside, at home, on the road – practically in all spheres of life. DSC_5158
  • When companies think of a SHE culture, they should not ignore the safety and health of their women employees in a much wider context. They need to feel empowered to report misbehavior of any kind. At the work place, the need is to treat them with dignity and respect. As part of a progressive society, males need to examine their attitudes towards women at home and in public spaces.

The day-long seminar was attended by over 200 participants who benefited from the expertise of several subject experts and thought leaders from the field. It was inaugurated by the Lt Governor of Pondicherry.  

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Sir Wilhelm Rontgen, I have just started my career in a large company. I am clueless how to understand the real motives of Scientist Roentgenpeople around me. There is no correlation between what they say and what they actually do.

Try to tune your mind to frequencies ranging from 30 peta-hertz to 30 exa-hertz and just X-ray their minds. You will then be able to understand people better. Putting yourself in their shoes (or sandals, if you prefer), finding about their family backgrounds and upbringing, discovering the underground cable connections they have within the company you have just joined, et al, are all inputs which would help you to understand them at a deeper level.

Use your common sense and intuitive insight to peep into people’s minds, much like the way my X-rays do for the physical body. If you take people around you at face value, you will always feel betrayed and cheated. This, in turn, could lead to a lower morale, thereby stunting your career growth.

As a brilliant student, your IQ supported you well. Once you start working, your EQ levels would help you better. Once you rise to higher levels in the hierarchy, your SQ would come in handy.

Madam Marie Curie, my boss is very aggressive. He keeps announcing new meetings which do not take place after the first Scientist Marie_Curiefew sessions. When I propose an idea, he shoots it down. Six months later, same idea becomes his idea, when it gets implemented.  

Handling an aggressive boss is just like handling radioactive isotopes. You are right that their ideas have a half life of their own. Once the initial enthusiasm has died down, the ideas just fizzle out. The good news is that they keep introducing newer ideas and isotopes in the system, so the excitement never ceases.

By closely watching his behavior over a long period of time, you can surely surmise the general decay time of his proposals. This would help you to learn to tackle him effectively. Once in a while, when you are sure of your stand with which he disagrees, look him in the eye and tell him so. Like a goblet of mercury, he may roll off in a different direction and eventually get persuaded to change the direction of his thought processes.

Once in a while, recharge yourself by looking out from your office window and simply admiring nature. All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child…it was like a new world opened to me,…which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.

Respected Mr. Albert Einstein, is your Theory of Relativity applicable in an office setting? I am about to take up a new job and need your advice. Please elaborate without equations, because I am not a mathematics wizard like you.

Yes, several facets of my theory are highly relevant in the work place. Here are some examples:

  • Let me tell you something that your management text books do not speak of. There is an upper limit to your career progression in a company. Scientist Albert_EinsteinJust like light cannot travel beyond a certain speed, you can expect to get promotions only till the time you reach your level of incompetence. Thereafter, you can either decide to relax and just take it easy, or switch to another frame of reference (read organization). If I had continued my stint at the Swiss Patent Office, you would have never heard of me, right?
  • Every organization is uniquely configured. It follows that their frames of reference are never the same. What works well in one need not work well in another. When you take up a new assignment, spend your honeymoon period understanding their value system and their frame of reference. No one would mind answering any of your questions then. To borrow a term from modern management language, a change of job is like a ‘paradigm shift’!
  • Once the honeymoon period is over, the focus would shift to your performance. Here, my equation between Energy, Mass and the Speed of Light could come in handy. Always remember that your ‘E’ (Energy and  Enthusiasm) to perform a task is equal to the product of ‘m’ (mental peace) and ‘c’ squared, where ‘c’ stands for mental and physical capacity. When you achieve a better work-life balance, you improve your inner peace, as well as your capacity to do things.
  • Above all, remember that Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere. Best of luck!

Sir Isaac Newton, my weakness lies in not being able to handle people. They do not always agree to what I say. Can your Laws of Motion help in any way?   

For your benefit, let me reinterpret my own laws in this way:

  • The Law of Inertia: If you have a category X employee, he/she will act only when told to do so by you. If he/she has Scientist IsaacNewton-1689been told to perform a task, it will continue to get done ad nauseum until instructed to stop. The law applies to zombies who roam about the work place like headless chickens. Get rid of your team members who fall in this category. Try to become a Y type employee yourself and lead your team out of inertia.
  • Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration. For people, Mass denotes their ego level and seniority in the company. The higher the ego/level, the more the force required to get a person to do the work speedily. You may not be able to directly ask your boss to move faster on a project. Probably, you have to get his boss to drop enough hints so your boss catches up speed. Sure enough, you are clever enough to get your boss’ boss in the loop without getting caught doing so, right?!
  • You are already aware that any action results into an equal and opposite reaction. If you praise someone in public and rebuke him in private, he would pay you back in the same coin. When your pet employee – so lovingly groomed by you over the years – decides to leave the company, you have the option of treating him well. This way, he becomes your company’s employment ambassador outside and may even rejoin you after some time!
  • Don’t forget to ask your immediate boss what he thinks of this. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Here is wishing you the very best in all spheres of your life!

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