Mehul Gupta, Forbes Councils Member, Co-Founder and CEO, SoCheers, a digital-first advertising agency
In an attempt to bring to light the positives that have spiraled because of this pandemic from a professional point of view, I’d say the top one for me has been the consistent conversations and follow-up actions we’ve seen around pertinent workplace issues such as mental health, overworking and work-life balance. These topics are not new; however, during the whole work-from-home situation when boundaries started blurring, they took center stage, and rightly so.
A tragic incident in the advertising industry got the topic right up and center, sparking real conversations about how everyone felt overworked, overwhelmed with blurring lines and no regard for their mental health, especially in the advertising industry. This spark in conversations started a A tragic incident in the advertising industry got the topic right up and center, sparking real conversations about how everyone felt overworked, overwhelmed with blurring lines and no regard for their mental health, especially in the advertising industry. This spark in conversations started a chain of reactions with certain organizations/agencies offering various solutions for their employees to reduce stress around their work.
One of these quick solutions was the introduction of a 4-day working week, implemented for a month by a few agencies and brands as well with the intent of giving their employees a longer break every week and help #DetoxWork. But as an agency owner, only one question plagued me: Is a 4-day working week really viable in the long-term?
While this idea sounds great on paper, there are certain ground realities that make it a difficult process. An agency doesn’t work in isolation. Agencies coexist in a system with their clients, their vendors and their additional partners. They operate in tandem with multiple partners to execute campaigns, which often take months to plan and execute, spanning seven days a week. So even if an agency tries to suddenly execute a 4-day working week, they might then need an entire upheaval of functional and operational changes from multiple parties, which is an impossible prospect, especially in a market like India, where I’m located, where I’ve observed agencies are more often than not treated with lesser respect.
Here’s another point. As per reports, the labor codes in India state that there’s a 48-hour limit on working hours per week. In the proposal for a 4-day working week, this 48-hour limit isn’t changing. This could mean that the working hours during the four days will go up, something which can be spaced out more evenly in a 5-day working week. A teacup can only hold a certain amount poured as per its capacity otherwise, it will overflow. With reduced working days and higher working hours, the pressure could mount and lead to creative blocks and immense exhaustion for professionals, which is what they were voicing out against in the first place.
I believe that reducing working days isn’t the solution in a market like India. I believe a stronger approach would be to devise ways on making each working day more balanced and productive. There are other solutions to tackle overwork and mental health problems at the workplace. Here are two of my top thoughts here, which can be easy to implement and practice:
1. Stick to a closing time, and try to follow it strictly. It should be like trying to catch the bus or train home at the same time every day. Give your team the much-needed space to follow other pursuits, spend time with their family, exercise, meditate and sleep at a regular time so that they come back refreshed and creative the next day. We’re professionally what we are as a person, and bringing that into your work opens up wider perspectives. This helps in keeping workdays more balanced and allows our mind to rest and recalibrate for the next day
2. Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more. We aren’t around each other anymore for someone to probe and ask if we need help or are stuck somewhere. We aren’t able to pick on body language cues, since switched off cameras allow us to be vulnerable without anyone knowing. Ask for help. You thrive in a team for a reason because you collaborate. Inculcate a culture where people aren’t afraid to ask for help or just communicate if things aren’t going so well.
I’m sure there are many solutions to tackle overworking and mental health issues in the workplace. What might work in your organizations/agencies to achieve a mentally healthy, productive and enriching professional experience?