Toppling work-life balance in Corona times!

Social and emotional intelligence are crucial soft skills. Are the ones in the top management displaying these traits enough?

I am generally good with dates and rarely miss out wishing friends and family. But the current times are not as conducive for my memory. As usual technology comes to the rescue. A social media account, this morning, notified me about the birthday of a dear friend.

My thought bubble concocted a happy imagery of his day beginning with his kids jumping over the fluffy mattresses, dressed in their baby panda night suits Afternoon must have been spent cooking and baking together, while the evening I assumed was a fancy sit out arrangement with high tea. Finally in the night, once the kids were off to bed, both the husband wife with their wine glasses cozied up to each other and watched a rom com to mark the end to a perfect birthday date.

Unfortunately, for my friend, the birth day this year was unexpectedly busy. I am not saying it has to be the mattress advertisement that I was imagining but it was even far from a normal day. His day started with attending a conference call with an unplanned international client. The remaining day was all about drafting emails, coordinating zoom calls and updating senior management about the progress. So much so that his meals were at the same desk where he had set up his work station.

My friend is a part of the computer based internet-enabled tech world and has been religiously working from home since April. Clearly embracing this working style as the new normal. The positive part of the lockdowns, being locked with families was interpreted as spending quality time with dear ones. But did that really happen for anyone?

This pandemic period has faded the working class concept of 9 to 5.Let me add that this conventional timing has extended to 09:00 am to 09:00 pm and beyond. The work from home arrangement was meant to be a reprieve from these strict timings but lo and behold it has given rise to the never ending work hours. Which clearly means, no one gets to hear these soothing words anymore, “Let us all call it a day and see you tomorrow!

According to an article published in Harvard Business Review, emotional intelligence is one of the most sought after soft skills that a leader should display. The inter-personal and intra-personal skills of the top management play vital to the success of an organization. Yet in these tough times, sustainability of the business is prioritized over emotional well-being of the individual work force. The employees give in to the demands for they fear being laid off and derive sadistic pleasure when they witness many of their peers struggling professionally.

The question then we all should ask is, “Why is it so difficult for the employers to show empathy for their employees?” I sat down to research about these behavioral traits and stumbled across a broader term, social intelligence. As per a write up on Socialigence, “Social intelligence is described as the ability of a person to tune into other people’s emotions and read the subtle behavioral cues to choose the most effective response in a given situation”. This attribute was best displayed by the HR managers during the pre-Covid era (another world all-together) where several casual attempts for rejuvenation were laid out to ease the mental pressure on the employees. In the current scenario, companies are exploiting the idea of “more is less”, all at the cost of invading the personal time and space of its employees!

I will statistically back up my writing by putting out the findings made by LinkedIn’s Work Force Confidence Index which said, every two in five professionals in India worry about their long working works while working remotely. Over 36% of the 994 workers who responded to them, agreed to an imbalance in their personal and professional lives. The fear of under achieving in a WFH setup dreaded the 27%. The number of women workers has dropped to one-fourth, prioritizing childcare at home. The report also notifies rising cases of depression due to social isolation and feeling of loneliness in workers who lived all by themselves. Sigh!

A positive spin on the scenario is the action of Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand who enforced total lockdown as early as the 4th day from the day corona cases were first reported in the country, curtailing the rise. I am sure she received criticism for taking the extreme step. This was especially done at a time when the other part of the world belittled the growing menace. We need more leaders like her who value human life over amassing fiscal revenues and profits.

How India struggles with work during the pandemic

As a counter argument, some said Ms. Jacinda was successful because the population of New Zealand is considerably low compared to a developing nation like ours, India. This was also one of the reasons implementing a lockdown took us longer. Once it did happen, the financial stability of the common men went for a toss. It was only then that the empathy and sensitivity of those who fired tons of employees in a jiffy to retain their businesses, was revealed as dis-ingenuous. The current times have highlighted this lack of emotional intelligence in the human race. How did we as a society fall apart so easily?

The pandemic continues to be a threat for an uncertain period. The future of the working class dangles mid-air. While money will always be a primary concern, one should not overlook the rising stress levels in employees. There is a need to alter policies in favor of the employees. Strategize and invest in the mental well-being of your people.

And for all of us grinding under the pressure, remember – “this too shall pass”.

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