Millennials – In the coming decade, our labour force is set to grow by over 8 million per annum, mostly driven by the youth entering the job market. Hence, it’s important for our policymakers, more than ever before, to shape policies in a way that they nurture progressive working conditions at our workplaces.
But what are the issues that really need fixing? We got seven professionals from diverse walks of life to tell us! Here goes:
Public Relations & Communications Consultant
Agency life is often glamorised to have a ‘great culture’ for ‘creative bad-asses’, where ‘everyone loves what they do’. But for me, there was a clear expectation-reality mismatch. I come from an engineering background and love to write. So, a technology PR job seemed like a dream come true.
Instead, I hated that 90% of my job was collating reports. It took me a couple of years to graduate to a role where I’d actually get to write. Secondly, as an entry-level employee you need to make a lot of people happy. The difficulty is that it becomes an everyday thing. There are journalists, who do not want to speak to you and clients who do not want to listen to you. On top of that, you’ll have a team that makes promises that are impossible to keep.
In several countries, PR is a highly respected job and companies depend on professionals for managing good communication, crises and making sure that their storytelling is interesting. But in India, the industry is very short-staffed and highly competitive. I recall a time where I ignored health issues for weeks, so I could keep up with the pace, as work-life balance is not something we think about at all. Last but not the least, most agencies pay peanuts, and individuals always wait for a corporate (client-side) job to move into a well-paying role.
Instead, now I work independently. And love it. For the most part, I get to choose the clients, and only work with brands I believe in. I have also grown my skill-set beyond PR to offer a wider range of services. And fortunately, I found clients that believed in me, and would also invest in me.
Dr Souradipta Chandra
“Flying” doctor with East West Rescue
As per WHO norms, there should be about 1 doctor per 1000 population. As far as I remember, India has 1 per 2000! Hence most hospitals are severely understaffed. Considering our population is exploding and shows no signs of slowing down – India needs to increase the number of doctors, hospitals, and specialists, exponentially.
We also need to pay attention to working conditions in hospitals. In India, 24-hour work shifts (or more) are the norm. But if you’re expected to be at your best when handling human lives, you need to be adequately rested. I believe we should have 12-hour shifts, instead.
Secondly, we need to treat junior doctors as human beings. They are the ones bearing most of the weight of the hospitals, while consultants manage to make a grand two-minute visit to patients and scoot off. If your team is well-informed, and you communicate among each other well – you’ll save more lives. Another major problem is hygiene; while hospital staff are to be well-trained in this area, there must be strict rules against spitting, littering and dirtying.
Our Government needs to realise that the healthier our country is, the more successful we will be. Not only do we need to increase the number of postgraduate seats, and evaluate whether we really need a quota system even after MBBS, we also need to acknowledge that doctors must have the opportunity to choose a specialisation that genuinely interests them. Here rank decides what you do; a skilled surgeon may get Microbiology, while a medicine enthusiast may be forced to study Gynaecology. No wonder so many doctors choose to leave.
Development professional working on public health
In the kinds of NGOs I have worked, no one comes to make money. They come because they have a passion for the work. Having respect for that and the knowledge that your boss and team trusts your capacity, is the most important thing for me.
Secondly, you may have your heart in the right place and the best of skills, but being able to multi-task and deliver on time is critical. This may seem true for all sectors. But in the development sector particularly, the structures are not as clear as in corporates, and usually everyone is dealing with and responding to a host of different issues, at any given time.
One major thing I have struggled with is the pressure to “be available” all the time. Most organisations do not have a system to recognise and address burnout. This is important as the work is very taxing – emotionally, physically, intellectually. Signs of burnout are often seen as “weakness”, or lack of capacity to deal with pressures. Nothing is more from the truth.
Assistant Professor at a management college in Mumbai
I have wanted to be a lecturer since my college days. When I interact with my students, I feel like we are developing a new chapter of life together; I help by guiding and counselling them through their issues and questions, and they, trust and give me an opportunity to make a positive difference in the story of their lives.
While I enjoy every bit of what I do, a major pitfall is the remuneration, which is just about enough for survival. Sometimes lecturers don’t even make enough to support their families. This is unfair, and I fail to understand why teachers are not remunerated at par with other professions. Better remuneration and benefits for the best in the industry, would only encourage passionate youngsters to seriously consider teaching as a profession.
I also feel that there is professionalism at work at only a handful of colleges and schools in the education industry. To help improve working conditions, colleges and schools should actively encourage teachers to attend seminars, do add-on courses and certifications. This encouragement should be in tangible forms. For instance, the work pressure should be relaxed when a teacher is pursuing a course. Financial aid or sponsorships of certifications is also a wonderful benefit. Additionally, I strongly advocate for better infrastructure at colleges – from Wi-Fi accessibility for teachers and hygienic canteens, to cleaner, well-maintained toilets for women faculty.
Vice President at Axis Bank
The financial sector is very dynamic, and there’s a high level of expectation from professionals at all levels. Achieving fiscal targets on strict deadlines is always challenge as the targets may not even be realistic. You must also keep pace with new jargons, terminologies, and technologies, and regulatory changes by central banks like Reserve Bank of India, on a daily basis, not to mention, then transferring this knowledge to customers.
Though the rewards are equally attractive in financial terms and growth, for those professionals who make it, expectations only rise, leading to burnout and premature aging. The fact is that not all people are cut out for this. Hence hiring people with the right competency as well as ability to acquire, learn and adapt to the required skill sets is critical. It would also help if the industry was more flexible, with more work-from-home opportunities, and having your work measured with actual work, as opposed to time clocked in.
Lastly, human beings need change. After being in the same job for a certain period of time, allowing professionals to be part of, or lead a new project, can help challenge and build leadership qualities. Improving working conditions, I believe, can help bring down such a high attrition rate.
Communication Coach with a Fortune 500 company
When I left my first job, the Human Resources representative spent an hour trying to understand why I was quitting, and to see if she could make the workplace better so I would reconsider my decision. However, these days HR don’t seem to care, because if you leave, there are 10 people willing to work for a much lesser salary.
I also feel organisations should be much more transparent when it comes to important decisions in an employee’s life. For instance, managers get away with harassment because HR and ethics committees tend to be governed by spineless, unethical people themselves. Strict action must be taken against anyone who harasses or bullies their people. Only when managers and so-called leaders are made accountable for their treatment of employees, that workplace will improve.
But for that, HR representatives need to start speaking to employees in the lowest rungs and not just the managers. And when they do, discussions must be kept confidential, which isn’t always the case. I once approached my HR with a grievance and voila, I was penalised during appraisals for ‘skipping hierarchy’ and not having ‘interpersonal skills’. Now, why would I trust the HR after that?
Fashion Designer & Consultant
I studied at NIFT Delhi, considered one of the most premium institutes in India. But there were many reality checks when I started working. First you are attracted by the glamour, then you realise how much hard work goes into it. Another problem is that our industry is super disorganised, not very transparent, and employee-friendly. For instance, there is a no structure in pay scales or rates of products. Many companies simply run on the whims and fancies of the owner, who is not bothered with the welfare of employees.
Unfortunately, our institutes don’t teach us about the labour rules. Hence companies flout them, even though international garment companies force export houses to be compliant with the laws. This spoils the way international people treat Indian companies.
As you gain in experience, all this really starts to bother you. That is perhaps why I ended up starting my own solution providing company. This gives me an opportunity to help other companies to organise their systems, better. Hopefully this will make a difference in the working conditions at these companies.