Privately held IT firms generally pay more compared to public sector jobs. But the higher salary comes at a price — submitting yourself to the wishes of your employer. Along with an increasingly skilled IT workforce, the profitable rate of monetary exchanges are driving more foreign companies to take up business in India. As they do so, IT professionals are experiencing a corresponding demand to meet expectations in terms of profits and project completions.
Welcome to the “All Work and No Play” era, where commitment at work is no longer enough. This is particularly true in the IT field, where employees are expected to be available 24/7, all year long. With 10-to-11-hour work days, coupled with travel time, many IT employees spend more than half their day involved in work.
As India moves towards a more western approach to business, things are slowly changing, and there are vast differences between regions and firms. Officially, India’s work week runs Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Unpaid overtime, however, is almost always the norm. Work schedules can be even more difficult if working on a project for a foreign company — their work day is often nine or more hours offset from the current time in India, and you often end up working odd hours to accommodate their needs.
Some companies do make an effort to create a comfortable work environment, with common rooms and breakout areas with an Xbox or two, table tennis, and other types of games and sports available. Such luxuries, however, become meaningless, and even offensive, if you don’t ever have the time to enjoy them.
Truthfully, IT employment in India can be financially rewarding — but it’s also going to be demanding. As a fresher with your first job, before you start thinking that you deserve special treatment and a bonus, you should know the following norms of working in IT.
New Employee Orientation
Typically when someone joins an IT company, orientation sessions portray the firm as an exciting place to work where using earned leave-time is encouraged. Generally, this is false. The human resource departments of these organizations are themselves overworked!
HR will show you a glittery and much-anticipated list of holidays and festivals like Diwali, Holi, Independence Day and so forth. If festive leave isn’t approved prior to the date, however, then it’s mandatory that you show up for work. The only way out of this situation is to apply for leaves in advance and get them approved. Leaves are granted, of course on a first-come, first-served basis. As the newest employee, you’re probably not going to get served — so you’re better off not asking.
Some companies do allow employees to earn compensation time off, and maybe a bit more money, for working on a festival day. What good is extra money for working during Diwali, of course, if you never get to spend it?
Time Off Can Be Costly
If an employee requests earned leave, for whatever reason, they are often viewed as irresponsible and uninterested in work. Taking extra time off from work can cost you a promotion or salary hike, especially if there is competition from other employees. Many organizations consider “leave time used” in their performance tracking, and have specific monitoring parameters so as to mark it against you. Unscheduled leaves can be even more damaging, with many organizations considering two or more unscheduled leaves as reason for HR action.
Don’t just blame your employer for the excessive work hours. Competition for work is keen across the globe. Companies and individuals need to achieve results quickly. Failure to do so can cost you your job, but it may cost the company its survival. It’s almost mandatory for employees to spend extra time at work, irrespective of the calendar.
Don’t even think of working overtime to make up for missed work — doing so depends entirely on the employer. Their attitude tends to be that you just don’t miss work.
Meeting Project Needs
Your work hours will vary depending on project needs. If the situation requires it, then you may find yourself working weekends — for the complete lifecycle of a project. Of course, this is never clearly communicated during orientation, but it will be mentioned in your service agreement — a document that you probably didn’t read closely.
For example, suppose you are an IT administrator tasked with upgrading the company’s IT infrastructure. Surprise! It can’t be done during normal work hours — you can only do it on weekends and in phases! Plus the network needs to be up and running when the new work week begins, even if you have to work around the clock to make it happen.
A few Indian firms do allow employees to work from home, and may even entertain the possibility of a half-day or reduced hours. This is very rare option, however, and typically available only to upper-level employees.
So keep dreaming of the time you can work remotely from home. It will only take you years of loyal service and exceptional performance while you climb the “corporate ladder.” You’ll also need an accommodating employer. And after all that, you’ll still be expected to come into the office on a regular basis.
Every company is always trying to do more with less. Translation: making fewer employees do more work per individual. Because this can result in understaffing, and even lead to disaster when employees are ill or leave for greener pastures, you should always expect to carry your share of the load — and more.
Good companies with better management do hire a certain percentage of extra employees to cope with unforeseen emergencies and challenges that arise. Few IT companies, however, are willing to incur the additional expense if it busts their budgets. Those are usually the same companies that end up facing higher rates of turnover.
The stress of working long hours with little time off, and being always available, can contribute to physical health issues and, even mental disorders like depression and paranoia. Imagine your phone rings on a Sunday. You immediately assume that it’s due to some unforeseen emergency at work. Or your manager assigns you to work during festivals, and you start believing that maybe he doesn’t like you and bad things are in store.
Stress reduces employee performance and increases turnover. This is why many IT companies, after years of sucking the life out of their employees, now arrange monthly psychiatric counselling and “Art of Living” sessions (which management clearly doesn’t seem to believe in). It’s all in the name of preventing frustration and burnout at work.
Is there any silver lining here?
Being committed to your job and working hard to achieve results is always a good practice. Companies are in business to make money, and thus they want results. Cutting down time required for recreational activities, needed breaks and vacation — all if which is essential to help employees rejuvenate themselves — is bad business. Even the best engine requires fuel and maintenance. It’s the same with employees.
This is especially true in IT where innovation and client interaction are important. An employee with a balanced and active mind is going to be more productive than one who is dull and over-worked. Try to find some outside relief. Pick up a hobby or spend regular time with friends and family — anything not related to doing work. No matter how busy your job may be, you can usually find some time to blow off steam. It will reduce stress and make you a better employee.
A company that wants to be successful in the long-run will allow its employees to have a good work/life balance. In return they get an efficient and energetic work force that is ready to tackle challenges and meet deadlines.
“You reap from what you sow” is an appropriate idiom for IT professionals. If you prepare and maintain your effectiveness you’ll get great things in return.