The challenges of career are different for professionals in each phase. Hence, I am taking the issue of work-life balance separately for professionals in different age groups. Typically, the starters in corporate world as well as the start-up world are expected to work their ass off. Whether you start in sales, finance, IT or manufacturing you are the raw brute force that the company has acquired from university and must harness your fresh energy on an urgent basis. To do this, the company not only imposes a rigorous training program but also expects you to get the on job experience. After one or maximum two years of being treated as a new recruit, the person is expected to contribute as heavily as the division head. Naturally, we try to compensate for less experience by putting in long hours. Even if we don’t intend to put in long hours, the quantity of work means that the best time of youth is spent mostly in office or plant or on field.
My friends who landed up in FMCG or cold drink companies narrated the stories of aggressive sales push during the festive seasons. During Navratri or Dandia, they were on trucks supplying cold beverages at the venues well past mid-night. The seniors would take a round randomly and if the stock was found inadequate at any site, the consequences would be grave. My investment banking friends share the horrifying stories of their night-outs and weekend-outs. Just before a public holiday, weekend or even planned vacation, the most important M&A deal of the year would become live and they were expected to chuck everything else and work on the pitches, documentation, client calls, roadshows etc. My consulting industry mates suffered the shock of their life upon joining. Even before they could digest the fat pay and big brand-name, they learnt the typical modus operandi of a large management consulting firm. They would fly to client site every Monday morning and return home either Friday evening or Saturday morning while putting fifteen to eighteen hours every weekday. After all if the company is charging thousands of dollars per person per hour, that is the only way to get the billing into millions. Start-ups have their own challenges. Between the multi-million sell-out or the IPO and the tiny start-up stand enormous challenges. Everyone in the organisation (actually there is no organisation) is randomly engaged in a role that they understand to the best of their understanding. So, across different kinds of organisations, the time and revenue pressures are huge and the new (avoiding the word junior) guys are expected to do everything to justify their existence on the team.
In such a scenario, obviously, work takes precedence over life. The reasons are different but the end result is same. There is no life for a vast majority of young people in this category. After work and commuting there’s no fire left. The person pushes along in the hope of a better future in form of promotions and pay raise. The only reason the body doesn’t breakdown is that you are in your prime years in this phase. The health and physical abilities that you are exploiting now are actually borrowed from future. It’s like perpetually living on credit card debt with expenses beyond your income. Eventually, the health and well-being will blow up. Whether it happens in late twenties , mid-thirties or later depends on where you stand today but it is bound to happen. There may be minor health scares in this phase but they are conveniently brushed aside or treated superficially with pills by most of us.
One thing that happens in this phase is that the companies mostly give a free hand to your bosses and their word on your performance is final. And bosses just love this. It reminds me of the IIT days when the Prof could award any grade to the student irrespective of what is written on the answer sheet. Many young recruits into investment banks, consulting and FMCG get so frustrated with the first couple of years of torture that they just leave. Maybe the idea behind this kind of life-style to youngsters is to drive the non-serious people out initially. But leaving is not a viable option always and one should not leave without having an alternate and concrete plan. What can be done by a person in this phase to improve the work-life balance without badly compromising on the career prospects? I have listed a few basic tips here:
1. Understand the importance of work-life balance. Don’t accept this situation as fate accompli. If you do, years will roll by and you may have done irreversible damage to your health and well-being. Internalise the thought that you want to improve your quality of life outside work. Any physical or material achievement cannot compensate for your lost health. Your only chance is to preserve your health, peace and well-being in order to enjoy life (whatever it is!).
2. Get organised better. For a person working, travelling or busy fifteen hours a day, this may seem like a lame piece of advice. I agree. But what is the option? Till the time you are in this situation, there is no option but to be extra careful on how you use your remaining nine hours. Six hours of sleep on week days (which is not sufficient by the way, you need seven at least, so try to sleep well over the weekend), still leaves three hours on a weekday. Devote one hour a day to your own physical and mental wellbeing. There is a wide range of things you can do within one hour like running, gymming, yoga, meditation. Do at least three types of activities for twenty minutes each without wasting much time. Efficiency is important for a person running short of time.
3. Devote two hours every holiday (including both days of weekend) to take care of yourself. Make use of holidays and vacations to detox, exercise, relax and unwind. The exotic locations and properties that we use for our holidays are perfect places for your well-being activities. You can do yoga and meditation by the poolside, on a hill, in a forest and so on. Go for a run outdoors. The tourist places are explore well on foot and you get glimpses of the real life of that place while running. Jogging on the beach is one of my favourites while holidaying in Goa. I did the same at the white sand beach in Miami. The vacation is not the time to drown in booze or to break the bed sleeping. Excess of anything is bad and it will come back to haunt you. There is no excuse for not taking care of yourself during holidays.
4. Improve your quality of sleep. For a person in this phase of career, the quality of the sleep (whatever and wherever you get) is extra important. The sleep can be improved by quite meditation for five minutes before hitting the bed, having dinner two hours before you hit the bed, avoiding stimulants like tea-coffee post 6PM (ok, make it 7PM) and not having alcohol at all during weekdays at least. If you want to party, do it but without much alcohol (not more than a small drink). Lack of sleep and alcohol consumption don’t go well together.
5. Keep a tight control over what you eat. It is very easy to hide behind the excuse of time-crunch to have whatever junk is placed in front of you. Few of my friends in consulting were deployed in Jamshedpur while I was studying in XLRI. They used to routinely land up in our night canteen (sorry, early morning canteen) and lap up things like instant noodles and other fried stuff. If you are getting paid so well, use some of that money to carry healthy stuff with you all the time. In India, at least, you can hire a good cook who can prepare healthy meals for you. Carry them with you and shamelessly take it out to eat when others devour the burgers and fries.
6. Socialise with friends and family whenever you get an opportunity. And in real world please. There is nothing like a firm handshake or a warm hug from a friend or relative. Human beings need to see other humans to remain emotionally and mentally healthy. Any amount of virtual socialising cannot compensate for this. Many of us shy away from attending family events (even when we can if we try little hard) and blame our jobs for it. These events can provide welcome breaks and emotional rebalancing. If you market the event well internally (as my best friend’s wedding or my parent silver jubilee anniversary) your boss will have tough time declining your leave request. You need to keep pushing boundaries and not sacrifice more than what is required. If you do ok on the whole, no one will fire you for extra couple of days of leave. A very bad boss (unfortunately) may fire you anyway. There is a limit to which someone should be able to exploit your insecurity.
7. Keep your social media, smartphone and TV activities to bare minimum. Figure out what is most important for you among these and don’t spend more than thirty minutes a day on this. Try catching up on FB, WhatsApp etc. while you are commuting. Use travel time for entertainment and reading. Sorry, this doesn’t apply to my consulting and investment banking friends as they are expected to work on laptops while in transit.
8. Stop taking your job as the end of the world and loosen up. Maybe you are exhausting yourself more than what is required under an unknown fear. Try to take out small windows to stretch, relax or to make a phone call. Close your eyes for ten minutes during car rides or flights. Ten or fifteen years later when you see your medical reports, how would you want to feel? Constantly think about the price you are paying for work. Whatever you may be getting in return is not enough. For more ways of being happy on job, refer this: 5 ways to be happy at your job!
If you follow these tips regularly and commit to take care of your life in addition to work, you may be amazed that in few months or may be an year, these things will become very well intertwined with your routine. Be flexible and fit in whatever works, wherever. You will be more productive in same amount of time and may have lesser issues later in life vis-à-vis someone who leaves his or her own life unattended.
Please feel free to leave a comment and write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.