Gandhi Jayanti and work ethic

The Goa controversy over Oct 2 holiday should prompt us to reconsider our HR practices

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Anju Yadav | March 16, 2015


#goa   #Gandhi jayanti   #holiday   #government   #public   #narendra modi   #amitabh bachchan   #casino  

Arguably the most cosmopolitan state, Goa is in the midst of a row over the Gandhi Jayanti holiday. Chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar is crying foul after the Congress raked up his government’s gazette notification which does not include it among the holidays. There is also an allegation that Goa’s mainstay casino industry wanted October 2 to be taken off from the state’s holiday calendar, as it hindered its business.

The CM was quick to dismiss it as a typing mistake and diss his rivals for the “mischief”. News reports also mentioned addition of another holiday on account of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival by the state government.

Clearly, the last piece of information makes one wonder what is wrong with the ‘right’.

Adding a holiday to a religious festival at the cost of a no-faith (since ‘secular’ is an inappropriate word nowadays) one cannot but be construed as a mischief on the part of the state government, which is blaming it on everybody else in the face of a snowballing controversy.

Many of us lauded prime minister Narendra Modi’s appropriation of the Mahatma’s birth anniversary to kick-start the Swachh Bharat campaign. In that spirit, some suggested that we should celebrate Gandhi Jayanti by working that day, and that we celebrate far too many festivals and take too many holidays.

Yes, the government’s list of holidays is long and its employees have it good in the form of gazetted and restricted holidays, but that certainly is not the case for the vast private and the even bigger unorganised sectors. For them, 10-12 holidays a year provide a necessary break from the routine and work.

The unskilled labourer works almost 365 days, as one day’s loss of wages often equals loss of three square meals for his family. An average house-worker gets no more than three days off in a month, with no provision for medical leaves or paid leaves. The private sector oscillates between a five-day work week and seven-day work week. Of course, working all days in the week is optional and is mostly from home, or on the telephone. But can an average white-collar worker afford not to take that call from the boss on a late Saturday evening or Sunday morning? Work easily fills up their weekend hours, leaving little time for families and themselves. Take the case of the salesperson at the neighbourhood mall. She never gets an off on the weekend, spends long hours standing (most upmarket stores are chair-free, literally keeping their employees on their toes) and spends almost all public holidays working. Are we compensating them enough for the loss of their leisure time? The answer is an overwhelming NO.

Contrast this with, say, Australia. Malls in Melbourne follow a strict timing – they close by 5 pm for visitors, employees take another hour, or even half, to tidy up the showrooms, before hurrying up to meet a friend, go sailing or home. True, the city has all-night stores, too, but their employees work in shifts. There could be a sweatshop or two even in the most developed world, but what distinguishes it is government policies, and their implementation.

Work-related stress is a major cause of several lifestyle diseases. It is even counter-productive: it affects work itself. The world is moving to a smaller work-week, which does not necessarily mean lesser work hours. The official work week of France has the lowest, 35-hour standard and the European country is even trying to shed its lazy image, but its average is 40 hours. In most of the rest of the eurozone, the work week spans 40 hours. In India, it is 40-48 hours. Yet, do we get more work done every week in proportion to the longer work hours?

Often, multinational companies shift to the Indian mode of working till late and on holidays when the foreigner CEO leaves it in the hands of his Indian counterpart. To borrow from Cyril Northcote Parkinson, why does the same work expand to fill the extended time? Why doesn’t the management take cognisance of the free-loaders at the subsidised dinner table, or the ones cooling their heels under the office AC beyond office hours?

While it is up to the government to bring policy changes, it also needs to change at the individual level. Our attitude to work personifies the ubiquitous ‘chalta hai’ attitude that extends to just about everything. We need to change that. Senior managements need to bring about that change, consciously.

The number of holidays should, by all means, be rationalised. But there is also a need for all work to be defined properly, policies to be oriented toward making an employee accountable for work (not the number of hours spent in office), provision of flexi-hours to enable well qualified women sitting at home after childbirth while ensuring a minimum period of rest for the most disadvantaged sections of society, along with sustenance assurance.

The Goa government’s controversial decision trended as the topic of the weekend, all the more as it marked the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi by Amitabh Bachchan, along with finance minister Arun Jaitley and British PM David Cameron, in London. Are we then celebrating the Mahatma all wrong? Instead of following his work ethic, we build him statues and rake up non-controversies.

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