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BW Businessworld

A Pressurised Environment

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30-year old, Pankaj Jain, working in a leading IT company in India, is currently in Germany on an assignment. Like most of his colleagues, he feels more stressed out working in India rather than in Germany.

For Sucheta Kerkar, an IT professional in her twenties, who has worked abroad and is now back in India, the managers, the mentality, and the working environment abroad are far better abroad than in India.

Dwaipayan Nath, 29, Senior Associate, with Cognizant Technology Solutions says, " abroad you have to be generally more responsible and accountable as you face clients while in India you have to deliver the assignment only."  The stress factor can rise more if the client is "too finicky"

Akash Goyal, a 24-year old working with a leading MNC, simply did not wake up from his sleep one morning. He had passed away of a massive heart attack, leaving behind grieving parents

Has the Indian workplace turned into a stress-filled minefield? The booming Indian economy seems to have added to the stress levels of those making the boom possible. Almost six in every ten corporate employees in India say they have experienced stress at workplace.

A recent survey released by the US-based Regus Group, a corporate consultancy, found that 57 per cent of Indians thought that their stress levels had become "higher" or "much higher" since 2007. What lies behind the stress that seems so typical of today's corporate world?

For Pankaj Jain, currently in Germany on an IT assignment, the extended office hours in India is stressful. "In India, we work more hours than in Germany. In Germany, we work from 9.00 to 6.00. In India, we reach office by 9.00 but we don't know when we will go home."

Long work hours often lead to high stress levels. Dr. Suddha Sharma a Delhi-based consultant psychologist says "it is difficult for any employee to concentrate for hours on solving a critical problem. The human brain does not support it continuously. But with strict work hours, one is bound to meet stress in life."

Today's globally competitive business ambience has also added to the soaring stress levels. While MNCs looking for cheaper human resources to serve their European or American clientele mean more jobs for countries like India, it also means new stress inducing elements. Nishit Arora, 28 year old senior consultant with Cap Gemini in Kolkata says:. "I am working in a US project from India, therefore I have to follow the US clock. This is very difficult at times, as my body clock goes for a twist, I no longer feel like a normal human being, my personal life is disturbed completely." Nishit's plan of getting married is also taking a back seat as his personal and official life is now fully imbalanced.

And geographical location of the client is not the sole reason for mounting stress levels. From flexi time and 'remote workers' to dealing with extended supply chains… knowledge work is rarely confined within office hours. "The dimension of work has changed," says Piyali Ghosh, Project Manager, with a global IT firm. "You can't really say when you are at work and when you are at home. With your blackberry and laptop you are always hooked into the system and whenever the client demands, you need to be there." Piyali, a mother of two young kids, says being promoted to a senior position has meant she has little time for personal life.

A few MNC employees give thumbs up to 'work from home' policy. "You are somehow stress free when you can escape the long travel time to office," says Pune-based Samir Gathe, 26, senior software developer with IBM. "You just log on to the system and function accordingly, only when an emergency issue comes up, then you need to be brisk in providing the solutions."

Work Atmosphere Is Vital
Sucheta Kerkar, an IT pro who is back in India after a stint abroad, says the working atmosphere is important. "If you get a project with a lot of work pressure, then obviously you will be stressed out, whether you're in India or abroad."

Human resources experts say that companies in India should start training managers to reduce corporate stress. It is important to "encourage people to find joy in the work they are doing," says Professor Abhishek Kumar from the Bhartidarshan Institute for Management in Trichy. "This can only be done by bosses and managers."

"If boundaries of time and personal space were respected in India, it would also contribute to a reduction of stress," adds Abhishek.

Psychologists insist that if a scheduled and balanced life is maintained, then professionals will be more stress-free and find work more exciting. Dr Bharati Bose, Consultant psychologist with Calcutta Medical College says, "In India most companies grade the attendance of their employees based on the number of hours they work in office, and not the number of calendar days. Getting scheduled leaves sanctioned is a big issue. Thus many tend to work extra hours and balance the office attendance structure to earn the leaves. This attitude leads to serious health hazards, too."

Fear Intensifies Stress
Saurabh Lapalkar, a 28-year old Senior Software engineer with Cognizant technology Solutions in Kolkata, says stress is exacerbated by the fear of not being able to advance in one's career or of losing one's job. His company has a gym and ping-pong tables to reduce stress but there is one slight hitch: "You don't get any time to go there and play or go for a workout."

However, Sumit Chatterjee, 26, a senior network engineer with Airtel in Delhi, says regular working hours help him. "We have defined work hours and after office we can utilise time for self development which eases stress to a great level."

For Madhumita Saha, a young IT professional, stress increases when there is a sudden change in expectations from employees. "When I joined my company, I was told that I will be handling clients from the UK or US. But after a few months I was suddenly given the charge of clients in Africa. I faced a lot of problems, but I had no option as the job was important to me."

"Competition to perform well continuously under pressure, facing major escalation issues from client and/or management, performance-based grades are enough reasons to build stress", says Samir.  "The more you worry about your career, the higher your stress levels go up".

Implications Of Corporate Stress
Most experts agree to the fact that corporate stress has opened doors to high divorce rates. Delhi High Court is the only place where Mohit, who works for a successful IT firm, now gets to meet his wife. " We were working for the same company and fell in love soon. Parents negotiated and got us married. But soon after marriage we could not hold on to the love as office work became more essential, and workplace stress just landed us where we get to meet today," sighs Mohit.

Adrija Chatterjee was married to Debdeep Ghosh, a 32-year-old senior Executive with a global BPO. "Ever since our marriage, we hardly got time to enjoy our union as he was mostly spending his time in office and even when back home, office remained his priority," says Adrija who is now divorced.

It is not only divorce but also physical ailments, broken relationships, and growing suicide rates are also some of the effects of "corporate stress".
Sanjay Goyal, a 58 year old Bank Manager with a leading private bank recounts the tragic death of his only son Akash Goyal, a 24-year old working with a leading MNC. "He used to come home often exhausted and dead tired. In the beginning we used to dine together but then he started coming home late and even kept working till the wee hours of the night. And this kept continuing for months, then one day we finally discovered early morning that our son was lying on his bed but he was not waking up. After incessant calls we barged into the room and found him dead. The post mortem said he had a heart attack."

The risk of heart attacks and high cholesterol levels are high among young professionals working in IT companies, BPOs and other corporates where work hours are very demanding. The alarms on health hazards led the health ministry in India to finally think of drafting an exclusive health policy for the BPO sector.  

Change In Policy?
Abhik Ghosh, 28, a HR executive with a global MNC thinks HR policies needs to be changed to fight out this problem of 'stress'. "We have lost some best resource this year and post mortem reports says they faced heart attacks. Therefore, our company has now started monthly health check ups for all executives and counselling sessions are introduced."

But Anupama Dasgupta, Head HR, Skytech Solutions in Kolkata, does not think "employee engagement activities will help reduce stress." According to her  "fair policies from the company and flexible work hours, good interaction among the seniors and juniors will be better instruments to reduce stress."

While Ashmita Ghosh (name changed on request) a senior HR personnel with Cognizant Technology Solutions think stress handling is absolutely personal. "People who come to work with us are not school kids who need to be counselled. Matured people should be able to handle the work properly which will therefore help them manage their stress. One should not carry home the workplace attitude or bring the family tensions at work."

Ipshita Ray, a senior HR personnel from a global MNC says "Stress factor even if it is there is mostly among freshers and juniors. And this hardly comes to the HR level as a complaint."

Good Communication Can Lower Stress
If the work is well organised, stress levels seem to be lower. Dwaipayan Nath, says proper communication between management and staff also plays an important role. "If you give a clear task as well as some freedom and liberty to fulfil it and give constructive feedback then I don't see any reason for stress," he says.

Psychologist Dr. Bharati Bose says, "relaxation techniques, meditation therapies and yoga exercises should be encouraged among professionals in office". "Biofeedback machines need to be installed in each departments for employees to use them frequently. Some stress reduction workshops need to be conducted and employee participation should be made mandatory so that all may benefit."

Experts say corporate stress has grown with global crisis. Some managers might think that it's about the "survival of the fittest", but others believe that only somebody who feels comfortable at work will be able to perform well for the company.