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HT PowerJobs: Workplace stress busters

Do huge pay packets and outbound journeys compensate for high stress levels? Rahat Bano investigates.

india Updated: May 09, 2006 14:55 IST
Rahat Bano

The stars may still be in the world-so-high but almost everything else, is now within reach of pretty much anybody in the globalised world - the latest car, a comfy apartment, annual holidays abroad… And the opportunities have a section of working people ready to push themselves to the limit like zombies.

In a recent online poll, website visitors were asked, 'Would you consider a lower paid job for a less stressful lifestyle?' So keen is the desire to make money that, 41 per cent of the respondents said 'no,' they would rather be stressed and paid more.

True, some of the most outstanding teams, that have the passion and zeal to achieve their goals, thrive because of what Sanjay Salooja, CEO of consultancy Empower, calls, 'positive stress'. However, humans have a limit to endurance after which it becomes "distress". SK Dhillon, Professor of Applied Psychology, Delhi University, lambastes those who toil for fatter salaries. "They are looking at short-term gains … They'll become Sunday daddies ... It (long hours of hectic work) is not sustainable." Says Salooja, "Most of them (my clients' employees) are not aware of the repercussions of stress."

Remarks P Dwarkanath, President, National HRD Network, and Director-HR, Glaxo SmithKline, "As long as you have not experienced stress in the real sense, you'll bite the bait for (more) compensation but the instance you feel it … some people can take it, some can't."

According to industry insiders, due to the exertion, people are taking retirement at 45, going for sabbaticals, or moving to smaller towns or less-demanding industries.

Stress levels are said to be high in the IT and ITES sectors and in investment banking. However,  SPS. Dalal, who has conducted workshops for All India Management Association and others, asserts that sectors like IT are "more competitive but it's not correct to say that there's more stress there.

It depends on the organisational culture whether they are driving people nuts or maintaining a balance." Admits Karishma Raj of Techspan, the software service arm of US-based Headstrong, "Being the only graphic designer here, the tasks do mount … but I handle them because I enjoy my work, and prioritise it." Prashant Bhatnagar, Head-Alliances and Operations, Techspan, concedes, "The pressure is certainly higher. But our incentives are not designed around financial rewards." For instance, he informs, "Employees can take time off (say, a day a month) without any reason."  

Similarly, even industry bodies like ASSOCHAM organise sessions on stress management. Many corporates offer flexi-time, have counsellors on call, in-house gyms, arrange treks, rappelling and stays at resorts and encourage staff to run sundry recreational clubs. At other organisations snooker, carom, table tennis, and cricket help tired folks flex their jaded muscles. Yoga instructors assist exhausted execs balance their torsos in therapeutic postures.

At firms like Techspan, NOIDA, employees are taught "desktop" yoga and meditation. Employees can also chew on gram (chana) or munch biscuits kept alongside coffee vending machines. Manish Sinha, General Manager, Microsoft Global Technical Support Centre (GTSC), informs that among the organisation's HR-friendly gestures are "the ever popular bunkers - rooms equipped with beds where people can go to take a nap when it's been a long working day." Some companies even host family get-togethers. Informs Dwarkanath, "We take our people on outbound journeys, river cruises, and hold off-site meetings."

But these means to 'unwind' coupled with the competition and challenges make for a vicious cycle. Says Manas Shukla, Dean (Programmes), Indian Society for Applied Behavioural Science, which holds training events for employees of its 4,000 clients says, "In South Asia, most organisations are very conscious of hierarchies. If a boss learns to be sensitive, picks up signals, he may help his subordinates. But otherwise, they are (anxiety-busting workshops and the like) paid holidays." (In his view, yoga and meditation look "seductive" but don't work.) As Salooja concurs, "The reality is very different. Employees will advise work-life balance but not compromise on their targets."

About this, Dwarkanath replies, "It's not a question of money. Have competition but a healthy one." Contends Santrupt Misra, Director (Corporate Human Resources and Information Technology), Aditya Birla Management Corporation, "We do not encourage our employees to take undue strain to earn more. It is counter-productive as it tells on their health. As an employer, we like to reduce the stress levels of our employees. We have variable pay plans that give superior pay for better performance. But that does not mean that we want employees to take on more stress."

Salooja says that very few business houses, particularly those with international alliances, are proactive about addressing the issues stress and strain. According to him, "About 15-20 per cent of companies are seeking outside help."

The National HRD Network is toying with the idea of introducing sabbaticals for employees at members' organisations, informs Dwarkanath. "If a teacher feels bored, he can come and practice in the industry. Someone from the industry may teach at an institute." Though he says that there's a stigma attached to changing one's career, he adds, "it's a matter of time" that things change for the better. An indication: 34 per cent of the participants in the poll mentioned earlier, said that they would settle for less taxing jobs for up to a 15 per cent cut in their salaries.