One of my favourite childhood memories involved an older man from Germany, candy and lots of body hair. Well... that didn't sound right, did it? One of my most memorable childhood moments was getting candy from my father's hairy German friend. How's that?
He'd visit us annually, mostly as a stopover for his big, Indian adventure. It was a ritual he'd maintained for over 20 years. He'd take 2 months off from work, every single year and travel. Having never seen my father take time off from work, ever, I was totally fascinated by this foreigner's travelogues!
I swore to always place wanderlust over work. To take frequent breaks to travel, read, relax and unwind. But of course, I hadn't crossed paths with Indian workplaces, yet.
Ladies & Gentlemen, welcome to India. The land of Taj Mahal, Yoga, Butter Chicken and Narendra Modi is also the land of longer-than-long working hours and messed up work-life balances.
As a young, or not-so-young working professional, you have two choices: you can either focus strictly on work or your schedule will somehow force you to anyway. Holiday plans, catching up with friends, eating on time, even sleeping on time is barred.
The moment you sign that offer letter, you've sold your life to your boss. And he's going to make sure you're working, every single minute of the day. Except the ones you spend stuck in traffic, of course!
While France is all set to pass a law banning work emails post office hours, the Court of Justice for European Union has already clarified that time spent reaching office is supposed to be included in an employee's work hours. Also, Sweden is slowly moving towards a six-hour working day. And if that hasn't made you feel bad about your working life, this list of the 10 cities with the least working hours will surely do.
And what happens in India? Well... even if you slog your ass for 18 hours, your boss is never happy, parents think you're a failure and you friends are miles ahead of you. And let me not get started on working weekends!
Naturally then, taking a break from work here is always the wrong idea.
Firstly, it is completely frowned upon. Not just by your colleagues but also family, friends and even your local sabziwala. "Mera beta ek mahine se ghar par baitha hai!" is how your dad will put it. Even if that ghar par baithna is helping you recharge yourself, before you take on the next big work assignment. To hell with those who travel and replenish their mind, body and soul. Jawaani toh kaam karne ke liye hai, right?
Even taking leaves is such a big deal in corporate India. Try planning a US trip. Just the idea that you'll be 'missing' from work for 2 weeks can give your boss a cardiac arrest. No kidding!
I've always wondered why taking time off from work is considered such a taboo. Earlier this year, I took a break for a couple of months and all hell broke loose. From family and friends, everyone was worried if I had lost interest in my career. Some even suggested taking career counselling. And when going to interviews, I'd always dread the same question from every single HR person: why did you take a break?
In another example, a friend of mine, tired of her hectic schedule, took an unpaid leave for a few months to unwind. When she came back, things had completely changed. The management had doubts about her capabilities and asked her to give a written test, before deciding to not take her back for the job. This after she'd spent 4 years in the same organisation, proving her mettle to everyone around. It was like, by giving herself some time, she destroyed her own career.
Why is it that taking a break is fine only if you're expecting a child or suffering from grave health issues? Considering how fast mental health issues are rising in India - as per reports, 3 out of every 10 Indians are suffering from mental health issues and 1 in 5 people need counselling - isn't it high time we gave some importance to a person's mental and emotional well being?
With rising cases of depression, as a generation, we're not heading to a better place. We're forever stressed, unable to meet deadlines and living unhappy, miserable lives. For a youth-oriented nation, the suicide rates in India are alarmingly high. As per a report by the WHO, 10.9 for every lakh people commit suicide in India.
Why can't we normalize a working individual's need to explore other aspects of his life? Or, to simply relax and take a break? Why is it such a blotch on my resume if I chose to not work for a bit and travel instead? After all, life isn't just climbing the corporate ladder.
There are places to be seen, people to be met and cuisines to be tasted. Or simply, hours to be spent sleeping. A person can't be expected to just work, all the damn time.
We're going to bed answering phone calls and waking up to work emails. And when we say we need a break, our basic human need is shrugged as unimportant and escapist. We're considered weak and lazy if we need to take time off. If we can't work 24x7, we need to buck up our game. Faster paces for fast lives. Life is not about doing much. It's just about the inevitable home-office-home routine, right?