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The Futile Rant About Stress and Work-life Balance

Every Sunday newspaper supplement invariably carries an interview of some CEO or a leader with an opinion on work-life balance and how the same has become so vital in today’s busy industrious metro ‘something’ lifestyles. 
Advice is freely available that ranges from ideas such as ‘Ways of switching off from work’, ‘The power of saying no’, ‘Taking regular holiday breaks’ to ‘Finding specific time out for hobbies’ and ‘stress management’. 
The misanthropist in me gets amused. Work-life balance is not a verb or a task that’s actionable. It’s a state of mind. 
Any conscientious manager who has a sense of responsibility to achieve something for his employer (read the one who signs cheques that feeds your family), for his own comforts, for his family, his community – for the desire to make a difference to the society, and for all those who look up to him – how can work and life require a mentionable balancing act? 
For any well meaning person, work should be life and life should be work. 
While I do come across people who work strictly by the watch all their life, there is a certain breed of these people who can cause a traffic jam at the office exit gate at 17:29:55 hours if the official time is 0900 to 1730 hours. I wonder how can tasks-for-the-day suddenly be completed with such alarming precision. 
Ratan Tata during a Jaguar and Land Rover meeting in the UK expressed his disgust about the attitude of UK managers in the garb of work life balance and their intent to work by the watch. The itch to leave and switch off from work on Friday afternoon at 1500 hrs through Monday morning, almost everywhere westwards of India is surprising. 
If a senior manager was made the owner of his company (where he is employed) overnight, would he switch off or allow anyone to switch off or even fathom switching off for two and a half days? 
And then there are people who can plan their holidays months and sometimes years in advance. Again I wonder – how can there be a guarantee that the organisation wouldn’t require you at a future moment or a project may not require your attention. How can one plan a committed holiday ahead of time? 
If you need to travel with your family you just plan and travel whenever you feel that you can be away from work. If there is a family compulsion just inform your team and leave without any question or doubt.
But if you don’t NEED leave why do you want to be away from work – that used to be allegedly ‘Worship’ in our childhood books – just because you have a few leaves pending?! 
I am inspired by Netflix and the culture that company has managed to implement. Amongst many game changing initiatives, one amongst them is that there is no leave policy at all. And the study proved that liberty to take a need based leave actually improved the efficiency and profitability of Netflix. And employees were happier even though they were taking 30% lesser leaves.
‘Act in Netflix’s best interest’ – That’s it. Culture cannot be simpler. 
Stress is another topic of discussion thats commonplace these days. Everyone is seemingly stressed. Everyone is talking about stress management. So does that mean that life is giving you stress? But yes stress is a way of life – if stress is an issue at all. 
But why should your work, your family, your job, your children, your time commitments give you stress? You need to manage all this, smilingly – if you love all of the above. Anything that you don’t love or don’t respect will give you stress. 

….and if God wanted the need for human beings to switch off, he would have designed a switch in the body….

I believe, no balance or stress management is required for efficient managers. God gave you a body with a mind and a heart that never switches off. And if God wanted the need for human beings to switch off, he would have designed a switch in the body. 

If a person has the ability to think – how can a person switch off and what’s the need to switch off. An average person sleeps for 8 hours , has an average 2-hour commute, works for 10 hours and does everything else in the remaining 4 hours including eating, socialising, family time etc. Being alive is a balance in itself. 
So what’s the point……! 
We allow our mind and body to be shackled in the assumed burden of work and then seek balance. If you love what you do, why do u need unshackling. If you are responsible enough to hold the position that you are holding why do you need to switch off. 
Even though you are away from work, you are still thinking about it all the time. But can thinking kill anyone? After all, psychologists ask you to regularly play Sudoku to prevent Alzheimer’s. Why can’t people consider their work – a game of Sudoku? 
Work is life. Work is party…. 
Evolved beings are always partying and enjoying and working simultaneously. There can be no distinction between work, party and life. 
Clichedly enough, if you love what you do and consider your work as a hobby, you will think about that hobby all the time. For instance, I don’t find it strange that sometimes in the middle of the night when I think of a new idea or thought, I instantly WhatsApp it to the leaders of my team so that that flash of idea is not lost and sparks imagination in my team who will translate the vision to organisational reality. In my opinion, no hour or place is odd. You could be having an absolutely unproductive day at work with only lacklustre ideas and yet while lying down at home think of an idea that may make a huge difference to the organisation. 
I think about my work all the time. I love golf, economics and stock markets and I think about them all the time as well. Thats how I find my balance. 
Anyone who is seeking work-life balance or feels that it can be sought or achieved won’t ever find it and anyone who needs to switch off – isn’t switched on enough and won’t ever be either. 
L. P. Jacks beautifully cites, “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both”.

manu also writes on Huffington Post 

15 thoughts on “The Futile Rant About Stress and Work-life Balance”

  1. Work can be stress when it is too much demanding and you no longer love it …. one should love and enjoy what you are doing ….

  2. As for the rest it is easier said than done because our lives change! Our priorities change
    The simple question to ask is
    Do you live to work ? Or do you Work to
    Live !

  3. "Doing what you love is freedom, loving what you do is happiness". Truly, we all need to look for happiness. Rightly said, Manu, the need to switch off indeed happens when what you do does not make you happy.

    Having said that, your article mentions the ideal scenario of a 10 hour work day and 8 hours of sleep which I highly doubt is followed in corporate India. So, in the risk of being branded "antisocial", the vacation/swiched-off mode will have to continue.

  4. Great article Manu. Completely agree with you that stress is caused by people not loving what they do. Which begs the question – do people know what they want to do? I feel that it starts with people not knowing what they want, developing into dislike in what they do, leading to stress

  5. Interesting.. lets look at the way the soldier functions…trains….trains (both physically and mentally)..always ready for action…utmost loyalty..disciplined to the core.. attitude to go out and give the best.. innovate and achive success

    He rests..he parties..he takes time off .. follows a discliplined life till the time comes calling.. the WAR.. time of action.. time of doing.. no rest till works completed…

    Lets consider this in our work. Are we at war everyday. Are we ready for the war.. give it all when time of calling comes knocking.. save for that time.. but continue to train..

  6. I remember when a textile unit labor outfit went on strike in Kerala . The management offered them the whole plant, machinery etc , to run it themselves. Keep the profits, keep the unit running. They refused point blank. They just hated their work. Another case in point, when the Bangalore transport minister offered the buses to the drivers and conductors to operate , maintain and own , there were no takers !
    The 17.59 rush , leaves me alone in the office , with my millions – in over draft ! Your organization Manu ! is fortunate to have you on board ! not many are .
    They tell me I am a lousy business man. I did not know how to handle the staff, handle the money, handle clients, handle the bankers. It was all about handling ! If only a few had stayed back with me after 17.30 . Enjoyed their work.We would handled well enough, for the greater good !

  7. Work life balance is really essential for professional; as they are suffering from lack of time problems. Therefore they are unable to spend quality of time with their families and friends. So they need professional tips on how to balance work and life to get success in both professional and personal life. Here from this article we can get some quick ingredients on how to maintain a balance in between work and life and I am sure with the help of expert advice we are able to go for a perfect work life balance.

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