Business Today

Beat the burnout blues

India Inc. is in the growth mode. The massive opportunity has, however, brought along excessive workload and unrealistic targets. Result: the workforce is falling prey to burnout.

Amit Mukherjee        Print Edition: December 30, 2007

Dr Suman Bhandari, Senior Cardiologist, Escorts Heart Institute
Dr Suman Bhandari
Raghav Jutshi, 31, a collection and recovery executive in a leading mobile service provider, was catching up on the day’s events with his wife around midnight. He had had a long day at work that ended around 10 in the evening.

Just then, the mobile on the side table beeped. “So what’s your target for tomorrow?”—read the message from his boss. A sense of unrest immediately set on him.

He forgot what he was discussing with his wife.

Wide awake, all that he could think of was the number of collections he would execute the next morning and how much he would amass for his firm’s kitty.

Burnout alarms

  • Being cynical always, negativity and irritability
  •  Exploding at irrelevant things
  •  Frequent headaches or migraines
  •  Weight loss or gain
  •  Pain in the heels
  •  Insomnia
  •  Shortness of breath
  •  Tiredness and fatigue
  •  Palpitations
  •  Butterflies in the stomach
  •  Inability to focus
  •  Depression 
Jutshi’s is not an isolated case. Corporate stress in the form of tough deadlines and impossible targets is taking a widespread toll on executives across the industries, especially in the high-growth sectors.

Psychologists define it as burnout— a chronic condition that happens when the body or the mind can no longer cope with overwhelmingly high demands.

“This growth has resulted in riches; but has brought about psychosomatic disorders and early mental and physiological burnout of individuals, sometimes even before they have touched 40,” says Dr Aruna Broota, well-known clinical psychologist at the Dept. of Psychology, Delhi University.

Most companies, especially those in the fast growing sectors, acknowledge that employees are, indeed, stretched. “Considering that the need to grow to a global scale has struck us late; many of us are working overtime to make up for the lost years,” reasons Manoj Kohli, President & CEO, Bharti Airtel, India’s largest and fastest growing telecom giant.

Many of the present generation of executives who want to see India shine are working really hard despite burnout threats, Kohli adds.

So, how big is the burnout risk for India Inc’s young, restless and stressed workforce? Enormous, if corporate psychologists are to be believed. It’s a vicious circle that the employees are stuck in. “The jobs are paying well but, drain individuals physically or emotionally,” says Dr Broota.

If this situation continues for years, months, or in some cases for weeks, a person may finally reach the breaking point and fall victim to the burnout syndrome.

You can beat the burnout. Here's how...

  • Bite as much as you can chew: you can only do so much in a day. Spread the workload and the responsibility
  • Say 'no'. Often, in a busy work environment, you are called upon to do work that you are not experienced in, or lack training for
  • If you are in a poor physical working environment.perhaps the office is too hot or cold__you will feel stressed. Either turn down the airconditioner or turn the heating up. A comfortable surrounding increases productivity
  •  Switch off for a 10-15-minute break each day. Just a 15-minute nap will refresh you
  •  Avoid caffeine. Caffeine raises your heart rate and anxiety levels. Drink water instead. Dehydration can lead to headaches and an inability to concentrate
  •  Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging is best). The oxygen level in your blood increases with exercise
  • Eat well and regularly. Have balanced meals at regular intervals
  • Keep your sense of humour. Smile. At the end of the day no problem is worth risking a heart attack for
To make matters worse, there seems no way of avoiding this stress. “India is in a time zone where we cater to markets both in the East (Singapore and Hong Kong) and in the West (Europe and the US).

That’s why the pressure is high and more work hours are required,” says Shyamal Gupta, Head (Institutional Business), Kotak Commodities.

It’s Catching’em Young

Workplace burnout is increasingly affecting the young workforce. Dr Suman Bhandari, Senior Cardiologist at the Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi, says about 25 to 30 per cent of heart ailments are among executives younger than 40.

“This has clearly to do with excessive stress and inability to cope with the present work culture,” he asserts.

Diseases like spondylosis, abdominal disorders, pain in heels (these are the symptoms of burnout as well. See Burnout alarms on top) are common disorders in the 25-40 age group.

Some companies have already woken up to the enormity of the crisis.

Software major Infosys Technologies has a 24-hour hotline connecting its employees to psychiatrists. But, stress and burnout are not limited to just the IT sector.

Long hours of work and immense pressure to produce results are ubiquitous across industries. Add erratic lifestyles and irregular eating habits; and there is a generation of physiological burnouts facing India Inc.

Work-life Imbalance

The phenomenon is primarily due to the lack of work-life balance, say psychologists. “Unlike westerners, who work five days a week and relax and enjoy life in various ways on weekends, most of us do not have hobbies such as trekking, hiking or even music,” explains Dr Bhandari. Such activities are great stress-busters.

The problem has acquired a serious dimension as it is not being dealt with appropriately at the HR level, says Dr Broota. “Given the current scenario, interventions to ensure congenial working conditions should actually come from the HR departments of companies,” she says, recalling an instance where an executive of a mobile services company sought her counselling as office stress literally pushed him to his limits.

Lifestyle intervention and stress management should be made mandatory for companies in India, says Dr Broota who conducts “three workshops every two days” on burnout-related issues for these companies.

The culprit sectors, according to her, are: IT, telecom, retail, and asset management.

Is There a Choice?

That’s a tough question to answer for both the companies and their executives. For executives, there is personal ambition as well as professional compulsions to meet targets. “If you don’t perform, there are plenty of others wanting to replace you,” says Gupta of Kotak Commodities.

However, Raghu Pillai, President and Chief Executive, Reliance Retail, adds a new dimension to the excessive workload scenario. “Everyone in India really needs to work hard so that the next generations can enjoy the country’s success some years down the line.”

He agrees that some balance between work and relaxation is required but says, India cannot afford to have an easy work culture yet. “The developed nations are way ahead of us. Maybe the next generations can emulate them when things here are better,” he says.

Some, however, insist that burnout can hurt the high growth ambitions that are the very cause of this phenomenon. “Whether it’s the pressure of dealing with tight budgets or preparing for the next board meeting, executive stress does have a negative impact on your performance, decisions and even the company’s finance,” asserts Koustav Dhar, President, MDLR Airlines.

Dr Broota’s remedy: A change in the corporate mindset and work culture. Till that happens, India Inc’s tryst with burnout will continue.

Fact Box

Who’s hiring:Various sectors across industries

Who’re they hiring:Graduate and post-graduate engineers or equivalent with experience in the use of energy in operations, maintenance and planning. Diploma-holders with 5-6 years of experience are also being hired for these roles

At what levels: The positions are mostly at junior and mid-levels

At what salaries:Rs 3.6 lakh-Rs 4 lakh at the junior level; Rs 6 lakh and above for the mid-level.

What are the numbers like:The National Productivity Council (NPC) has projected a demand for approximately 16,000 skilled and trained energy managers in the country over the next five years 

Wanted: Energy managers

India Inc is realising that energy availability and its cost play a significant role in profitability. Hence, the urgent need to manage energy effectively. That’s the reason companies across industries are in hiring mode for energy managers. Explains Malavika Desai, CEO, RCG, a leading recruitment firm: “Take, for instance, the textile industry.

The share of energy cost in the total manufacturing cost in spinning mills works out to around 14 per cent per unit of production. It’s even higher in some other industries and every rupee saved in energy costs will go straight to the bottom line. Therefore, there is a great demand for trained energy managers.” The job of an energy manager involves planning, developing, and managing energy utilitisation programme. This includes assessing the energy use and devising the energy-saving methods.

Ritwik Mukherjee

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