MUMBAI: Deepayan Mallick reminisces about a time just two months ago when he could switch off from work the moment he walked out of the office around 6pm. “Even if I had to work late, once I left the office at 8pm, that was the end of the day," says Mallick, 27, who works with a content marketing company in Bengaluru. “That seems like a dream," he says.
Now, the working day starts at 11am with no end in sight. “There are times I work till 2am. Deadlines have become shorter," says Mallick. He has to directly interact with clients, something he didn’t do earlier. “They schedule meetings at 8.30pm, they want something done by the next morning. I have to be available all the time as my bosses or clients may ping any time," says Mallick.
The biggest casualty of the new way of working for the last 50 days in the lockdown has been defined work hours and routines that employees used to enjoy. Young professionals say managers often schedule meetings later in the day, and work hours often stretch to 14 hours a day, with the line between weekdays and weekends blurring.
For the past month, Nisha Sampath, 45, a Mumbai-based strategy consulting firm founder, has observed that people are scheduling meetings late in the evening, well beyond normal ‘office hours’. “There is an assumption that people will be available anytime. Earlier, we compartmentalised better because we had social activities to get to," she says.
Boddhisattwa Dasgupta, 40, who works in the infrastructure industry, fondly recalls the strict eight-hour routine he followed before the lockdown. Now, work extends to 14 hours a day. For him though, the problem is that he takes frequent breaks. “In the office, I would always finish tasks by 5pm. Now, the same thing takes longer as I get distracted by my dog or take a break. There is a lack of focus," he says.
Dasgupta is now consciously trying to mark blocks of time to indulge in non-work activities so that he can finish by 6pm and not work on weekends. “Efficiency is still an issue but the haphazardness is gone," he says.
To ensure that her boss doesn’t keep calling after hours, HR professional Shruti Puri, 34, who works in the manufacturing sector follows up so that she can finish work and have some downtime. She’s careful about pushing back because she is worried about job insecurity.
Most professionals say they’re losing track of the days of the week. “Every day feels the same. I have no pangs about a lost weekend because there’s nothing different to do," says Dasgupta.
While creating boundaries is important to avoid burnout, employees are hesitant to do so at a time when they’re scared about losing jobs. Dr Amit Malik, CEO and co-founder of InnerHour, a digital mental health platform, says financial and job security threats are very real in the current scenario. “One way to deal with this is to get on short calls with the manager once in two days to talk about broader aspect of work rather than specific tasks, where it will be easier to get and give actionable feedback," he says.
Sampath says work gives people a sense of purpose, a way to focus anxious energy. “Instead of sitting at home and feeling helpless, working long hours gives meaning and purpose," she says.