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The thin fine line

Recently I was in Bangalore on an industrial tour and I called one of my friends from engineering days. He is an Infoscion and we have been close friends for last 10 years. I had expected that he would come to receive me and give me a huge hug. But I had to wait till eight in the night to get a glimpse of him. I waited outside Planet M watching the hurly burly crowd on the Brigade Road. He came and we had a great time together – we talked about the past, present and our future plans. Seeing his busy schedule, I told him how I came out of the whirlpool of work. When I returned from Bangalore, I scanned two pages from my diary and mailed him.

April 2001
I was waiting for the inventory guy to provide me the stocks. I yelled at the boiler attendant to give me the kerosene consumption data and I kept on calling the finished goods incharge to submit the despatch data. Then I got to the production department and asked for the day’s production. The quality control officer came with the data and I started my work balancing the masses – input and output, calculating the financial implications and finding out the efficiency of our machines. By 3:00 PM, I got the market demand report and by 5:00 PM I was ready with the next day’s production planning. As the clock struck five, my work was completed. But as usual I stayed till 7:30 PM, analysing the data and looking for the loopholes that can be get rid of and other ways of increasing the efficiency.

March 2002
The Thai Production Manager who joined last month is a real smart guy. He gets all the work done in those odd eight hours and always looks cheerful and smiling. Today as usual, I had completed my work and was going to start the analysing part for which I am not paid. As the clock struck five, there was a knock on the walls of my cubicle. There was my Thai Production Manager who hates working late. He pulled me and we went for an evening stroll in the countryside. We shared our ideas and we came up with the solution for the most difficult problems that had occurred in the plant recently. Today I got answers to all my previous useless efforts. From now onwards I will never work late!

My friend knows me well. He knows that I can’t change so abruptly. So he keeps calling me and checks casually whether I have left office after five or not. A few days back he called me. He was really happy at that time and I knew from his voice that he had something great to tell me. He had replied me back with a bang! In his one line email he had written:

Hey dude, now it’s your turn to read! Now most of us at Infosys have started practising this! Open the attached mentor session speech from our Boss, Narayan Murthy.

I hastily opened the attachment and it read:

Infosys’ Chairman and Chief Mentor Officer (CMO) – Mr. Narayana Murthy’s Speech on Late Sitting:

Hope that many of us start leaving early for home after reading this… I am not relating this to the present scenario. I know people who work 12 hours a day, six days a week, or more. Some people do so because of a work emergency where the long hours are only temporary. Other people I know have put in these hours for years. I don’t know if they are working all these hours, but I do know they are in the office this long. Others put in long office hours because they are addicted to the workplace. Whatever the reason for putting in overtime, working long hours over the long term is harmful to the person and to the organization. There are things managers can do to change this for everyone’s benefit. Being in the office long hours, over long periods of time, makes way for potential errors. My colleagues who are in the office long hours frequently make mistakes caused by fatigue. Correcting these mistakes requires their time as well as the time and energy of others. I have seen people work Tuesday through Friday to correct mistakes made after 5 PM on Monday. Another problem is that people who are in the office for long hours are not pleasant company. They often complain about other people (who aren’t working as hard); they are irritable, or cranky, or even angry. Other people avoid them. Such behaviour poses problems, where work goes much better when people work together instead of avoiding one another. As Managers, there are things we can do to help people leave the office. First and foremost is to set the example and go home ourselves. I work with a manager who chides people for working long hours. His words quickly lose their meaning when he sends these chiding group e-mails with a time-stamp of 2 AM, Sunday. Second is to encourage people to put some balance in their lives. For instance, here is a guideline I find helpful: 1) Wake up, eat a good breakfast, and go to work. 2) Work hard and smart for eight or nine hours. 3) Go home. 4) Read the comics, watch a funny movie, dig in the dirt, play with your kids, etc. 5) Eat well and sleep well. This is called recreating. Doing steps 1, 3, 4, and 5 enable step 2. Working regular hours and recreating daily are simple concepts. They are hard for some of us because that requires personal change. They are possible since we all have the power to choose to do them. In considering the issue of overtime, I am reminded of my eldest son. When he was a toddler, If people were visiting the apartment, he would not fall asleep no matter how long the visit, and no matter what time of day it was.! He would fight off sleep until the visitors left.. It was as if he was afraid that he would miss something. Once our visitors’ left, he would go to sleep. By this time, however, he was over tired and would scream through half the night with nightmares. He, my wife, and I, all paid the price for his fear of missing out. Perhaps some people put in such long hours because they don’t want to miss anything when they leave the office. The trouble with this is that events will never stop happening. That is life! Things happen 24 hours a day. Allowing for little rest is not ultimately practical. So, take a nap. Things will happen while you’re asleep, but you will have the energy to catch up when you wake. Hence “LOVE YOUR JOB BUT NEVER FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR COMPANY (Because you never know when it stops loving you)”

But does it mean that we should stop working hard? No, never. Hard workers know where to draw a line (and it is a fine one) between their professional and personal existence!

44 thoughts on “The thin fine line

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