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All work and no play

Indian men seem to be more obsessed about their careers, money and success than their global counterparts.

Anusha Subramanian        Print Edition: December 30, 2007

Subhrangshu Neogi, 33, is married with two kids. He is the Vice President Brand & Communications at Religare Enterprises and works for not less than 15 hours every day, is connected to work 24X7 through his BlackBerry and laptop and travels 8-9 days a month. He has just returned from Sydney, where he was on an official visit. Being VP for branding and communications, his job involves brand marketing, communications and public relations. “It’s all work and very little play for me,” he says.

Mahesh Narayanan, 29, Group Sales Manager, Google India, is responsible for all-India sales at his company. His job involves dealing with advertisers from specific verticals like finance, media & entertainment, Automotive and others.

Mahesh Narayanan, 29, Group Sales Manager, Google India
Mahesh Narayanan, 29
Group Sales Manager, Google India

“Though I’m obsessed with career, money and success, I strongly believe in maintaining a work-life balance”

Narayanan works for almost 10 hours a day, five days a week, and, on Saturdays, is connected to his work through his laptop and BlackBerry. “But despite my schedule, I like to maintain a good work-life balance,” he says.

Neogi and Narayanan are not the only two men who work so hard. Most Indian men fall in this category of “all work and no play”. That’s because the two touchstones of success in today’s India are a great career and loads of money. The little pleasures of life—like marriage or time with friends— come way down the ladder in the Indian man’s list of priorities.

Why Indian men are working so hard
Men (and, to be fair, women, too) are pushing themselves to their limits, and it’s not hard to fathom why
  • The Indian economy is booming and there are massive opportunities for enterprising people.

  • The nation as a whole is trying to prove itself to the world.

  • Decades of being a closed economy have left Indians feeling deprived. The pent-up demand has now found a release.

  • Global exposure has raised aspirations.

  • Increased competition among peer groups means individuals have to work doubly hard to get ahead.
So, are Indian men more obsessed with career, money and success than their global counterparts? The answer seems to be an emphatic yes. The first casualty of this obsession with work is the routine 9 to 5 job. Today, on average, an Indian male puts in 12-15 hours of work every day from Monday to Friday, compared to the global average of 8-9 hours a day. And spillover work is completed on weekends.

Says 34-year-old Sanjeev Gupta (not his real name) who works at a foreign bank in Mumbai: “Work often defines the life of Indian men. Working hours here are longer than in most other countries and the concept of weekend priority over work is not prevalent here.” Gupta’s work day begins at 9.30 am and he is invariably at office till 10.30-11 pm.

Neogi says it’s not only men who are obsessed with work. “Most organisations also want to be more competitive and prove themselves in the global arena.” Adds Gupta: “Personally, I try to maintain a work-life balance, but this is sometimes difficult as employers expect people to work. In many offices, peer pressure forces people to put in longer hours, lest an impression is created that you are not working enough.”

Narayanan begs to differ, but only slightly. “Though I’m obsessed with career, money and success, I strongly believe in maintaining a work-life balance. I like to spend time meeting my friends, working out, playing a sport or watching a movie. Fortunately, Google encourages this—in fact, it evaluates this during the first job interview as well.” Narayanan works from 10 am to 7.30 pm on weekdays and is connected through his laptop and BlackBerry on Saturdays and Sundays.

“I only answer important mails on Saturdays but try to stay away from work on Sundays.” Neogi, who interacts with his global counterparts in countries like the UK, the US, Australia and Dubai almost on a day-to-day basis, says that men in these countries have their priorities right—unlike in India, weekends are strictly reserved for their families or partners.

Great career

East  - 72.2%

North - 58.4%

South - 59.4%

West - 64.6%

Lots of money

East - 42%

North - 32.8%

South - 29.2%

West - 32.4%

In India, this obsession is most noticeable among men in the 25-to-early 40s who want to achieve all their ambitions, preferably yesterday. Unfortunately, the trappings of a successful life are coming at the cost of one’s personal wellbeing.

“Everybody today is hungry for success and wants to make it big in the least possible time, even if it means burning themselves out—physically, mentally and emotionally—in the process,” says Dr Harish Shetty, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist ( Also read Beat the Burnout Blues).

Shetty has many male patients who come to him to treat depression, insomnia, mental fatigue and personal relationship problems, all a result of their vaulting ambitions.

Most of those who come to him for consultation and treatment are in the age group of mid-20s-to-early 40s. The most persistent problem faced by workaholic men is poor personal relationships with their spouses, children or partners. Children of such men suffer from behavioral problems such as aggression, temper tantrums and lack of self-development.

Their wives go through terrible depression due to lack of attention and love and this leads to dysfunctional families and even divorces.

There’s no free lunch
According to psychiatrists, men who keep long hours at and are obsessed with work suffer most from the following:
  • Mental fatigue: Due to excess hours of working one gets mentally tired and it’s as if the brain runs out of chemicals and just shuts down.

  • Depression: It’s a strong mood involving sadness, discouragement, despair, or hopelessness that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer.

  •  To be or not to be feeling: Being in constant dilemma over whether one should be in the job or leave it for something else.

  •  Lack of communication: Mental fatigue can result in a disconnect with people around.

This apart, men themselves suffer from severe mental fatigue, depression and face issues with their peers and their bosses.

Shetty adds that in most cases, men try to compensate their families materially for the emotional gaps their ambitions create. “Most men who come to me say they hope to make it big and earn loads of money by 40 and then lead a relaxed life. But once the obsession sets in, it becomes an addiction that is difficult to kick,” says Shetty.

But there are also men like Jayant Pai who have learnt to maintain their work-life balance. Pai, a certified financial planner, works with a leading Indian financial services firm.

He says that he consciously stays away from work on weekends. “A lot depends on the organisation one works in.

There are some organisations that expect their employees to work 24X7.” Pai works 9-10 hours every day but does not take work home.

“It sometimes happens that I have to work on a weekend, but such instances are rare,” he adds.

And examples like Pai are equally so.

Most men agree that if one plans one’s career properly, money will automatically follow.

Perhaps; but this comes with a whole set of avoidable side effects that can dilute the joy of success considerably. But, as our study shows, Indian men will take some time to realise that.

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