Madan Rana doesn’t want to reflect on the past week. Most nights he woke up at odd hours feeling anxious, and thinking about how he would manage his rent, household expenses and the school fee of his daughter. Since April, Rana has been paid ₹12,000 a month, an 80% reduction in salary that his employer, an IT company, claims is a result of a drop in business because of the covid-19 crisis. This Monday, he quit his job of nine years.
“I have never felt so helpless in my life," says Delhi-based Rana, 38. He’s now moving back to his family home in Himachal Pradesh’s Baijnath town. He understands that businesses have been hit badly by the virus across the world but it’s near impossible for a family of four to survive on such a small salary. “You can’t make me work 12 hours a day and pay me so little. What about my self-respect, my family?" he says.
Quitting a job without another opportunity in hand is often considered a bad step. Maybe even a terrible decision right now, given that there are reports nearly daily on record unemployment numbers and slow business recovery. But there are some who don’t want to be stuck in the hamster wheel anymore, even if it means more uncertainty. They’re picking respite over the constant stress to prove productivity and dedication while working remotely.
After much introspection, Neha G., 29, a public relations consultant, decided last week to get on a con-call with her supervisor and human resource manager to inform them about her decision to quit after two years. “It was not an easy one to make because I love what I do. But since the start of the lockdown, there has been a constant pressure to show proof of productivity. They even started sending me mails saying my productivity was going down but didn’t have an explanation for what I was failing to achieve," she says.
Like Rana, Neha realizes that companies are going through a difficult time and believes that getting back on track requires team effort. “I’ve been working on a 50% salary cut. I want to contribute to building the company, but if there’s no feedback or transparency in communication, what do you do? It’s taking a toll on my health," says Mumbai-based Neha, who’s now actively looking for a job.
The toll of long working hours and blurring of boundaries between professional and personal lives in today’s virtual office has become a common topic of conversation despite there being no concrete data on the subject yet. Kanika Agarwal, founder of mental health platform MindPeers, offers some insights on the growing epidemic of stress. In a span of three months, she has seen a twofold rise in people coming forward with mental health issues. Of 1,500 people who seek telephonic or online counselling at MindPeers, 57% have stress related to work and career. Most of these cases are in the 18-35 age bracket. “Mostly those in the millennial cohort are coming forward to talk about how work from home is affecting their personal lives, that there’s no start and stop time," says Agarwal. “Gen Y is more aware of their feelings and think about what they like and dislike. They are asking themselves whether they are happy in their jobs, unlike the previous generations."
For millennials, work culture is extremely important, points out Dishan Kamdar, vice-chancellor of FLAME University in Pune and professor of organizational behaviour. “Work is not a transactional affair. When they are asked about their productivity log, it makes them feel like a commodity and affects the trust they think they have established with the company. Let’s not forget that millennials want to contribute in building the company as much as the employers," he explains, adding, “That’s why they expect the bosses to be transparent and honest in their communication, and there’s nothing wrong in it."
While there are no official numbers on how many people have quit because of work-related stress or remote working pressure during lockdown, HR consultant and career coach Anjali Bhole Desai puts the figure at 0.1%. Since work shifted to home, Bhole has been telling clients about the importance of giving feedback to employees. “For some reason, managers and supervisors are not open to the idea of feedback. In a work from home situation, you have to take that extra minute to talk to your employee about their performance, especially when so many are alone at home." She adds that millennials, who constitute a large section of India’s workforce, are “achievement-oriented and need constant validation and a sense of feeling included".
The absence of communication from her supervisors during the lockdown was the reason Rashmi S. resigned from her consultant position at a Delhi non-profit after a working for over a year. “The gaslighting, the silent treatment, no feedback, pressure of work from home, it was all just getting too much. I was constantly thinking about work and what I was doing wrong, so much so that I wasn’t eating properly," says Rashmi, 30, who lives in a rented apartment. She now spends most of her time looking for jobs online. “I’m aware that the job market is bad and I have limited savings but I had to take the decision because you need mentors and leaders who push you to become better, not those who hurt your self-esteem."
Despite the uncertainty about the future, Madan Rana believes there’s a silver lining. “My decision to quit has nudged me to come out of my comfort zone. Maybe I’ll finally start working on the travel startup I have always wanted."