Is work life balance still deemed as a misnomer in the culture of productivity or pandemic has changed this thought process?
AL Making a living and living life, are totally different and that's why there needs to be a healthy balance between the two. Yet, for the longest time, work life balance has been presumed, as an excuse for less work and more life. Presentism has been confused with productivity and cultures steadfastly reinforced the archetypal view that the best employees are those who are available 24x7, 365 days a year.
A December 2019 study found that majority of employees do not want to avail their leaves as not being visible at work could label them as non-performers. Another study found that being away from workplace for consecutive days triggers anxiety in individuals - anxiety of having missed out something critical while away. Needless to say, these are not outcomes of formal systems at work but are perceptions which have been developed and reinforced by cultural cues. To be fair, the issue has been recognized and mitigation measures brought in by most organisations. However, like all other aspects of culture, this remains an issue of beliefs below the surface of conscious decision and therefore is prone to very slow pace of change. With all the other travails unleashed by the pandemic, in this area at least, it has been a great leveler. What was largely unacceptable before the pandemic was suddenly a reality and everyone was expected to deliver in the new circumstances.
Post the first wave of pandemic, as workplaces opened up to the earlier ways of working, it was evident that the stigma attached to being physically unavailable had waned. Managers were more focused on the credible measures of productivity and had largely discarded the notions of presentism.
When the second wave of pandemic hit, the transition to again working from Home was much smoother. In this second wave of WFH, there are marked changes visible in the mindsets of managers. Till about 15 months back, the same managers who would have deemed physical presence as a given do not even factor in the fact that their teams are not visible for workdays on end. This may be a generalization but certainly there has been a sea change in the mindsets.
How do you underline the importance of work-life balance in present pandemic period?
AL The Covid-19 crisis has thrown our professional and personal lives under the same roof; resulting in unique clashes that had not been experienced before. There is a lot happening at the work front as well as equally important changes taking place simultaneously, in our personal lives. Illness, death, financial insecurity, fear, stresses and anxiety due to the pandemic is overwhelming many. To add to it, overwork, hyper communication, accelerated connectivity and instantaneous response are all wreaking havoc on us. Work-life balance thus remains an elusive aspiration at times.
A healthy Work Life balance involves "happiness, fulfillment and job satisfaction" and achieving it is very critical. Personal and professional life should, therefore, be seen less as conflicting aspects and more as complementing essentials for a full life. While it is important for mental as well as physical health, it is also a major factor for long-term economic success.
In order to perform well, one must be able to be at the top of their game. It is, therefore, very important to de-stress, reduce pressure and anxiety which actually enhances our overall productivity. A healthy, Work life balance helps safeguard our lives, by setting boundaries which will promote our overall well-being and also maintain high productivity levels.
During this pandemic, we have to be cautious, that while work is a priority and there is no compromise on performance and productivity, our personal, mental and physical well-being also gets the due, it deserves.
Overall, a healthy work life balance is not a choice but a necessity for sustained productivity on all fronts.
What new challenges have been posed by pandemic induced Remote working or WFH as it has become living at work?
AL The concept of remote working had its own unique challenges even before the onset of the pandemic. With Covid -19 compelling a much wider spectrum of organisations to compulsorily adopt WFH, the impact is now spread across a much larger canvas and is being experienced by a much larger portion of the workforce.
The most compelling issue is that of physical space. The elimination of physical distinction between work and home has translated to 'live in office' for the family members. The social balance at 'home' has been disrupted where space and time needs to be demarcated for 'virtual office' and 'online school'. The issue gets more pronounced for the sandwich generation which has to care for children as well as parents. This eventually leads to loss of productivity and dis-engagement.
The other issue which has emanated from WFH is feelings of isolation, loneliness and being unable to "switch off". The lack of physical boundaries combined with lack of digital boundaries has led to a situation where instantaneous responses have become the expectation and the norm. This creates a state of perpetual anxiety which is part of the consciousness even during non-work hours. Over a period of time, this stress and anxiety builds up leading to a depressive state of mind.
Blurring of work and personal time is also impacting food habits /schedule along with lack of physical exercise. Individuals also face the lack of ergonomic workspace at home which again contributes to physical issues.
The real challenge which we need to deal with, both at organisational level and individual level is the prevention of burnout. Many such factors are leading to an accelerated burnout rate and organisations quickly need to take cognizance of this and rethink their programs to deal with stress and wellness.