Punctuality, Office Hours Are Outdated Workplace Mottos, Mr Modi
The happiest countries in the world are the fastest to have the right conversations about the future of work, writes Priya Ramani.
If I could change one thing about the way I used to be in the workplace when I managed a team full-time, it would be my insistence on punctuality. In my terror boss avatar, I demanded that colleagues who reported to me be at the office by 10 am. If they were going to be late, they had to call and tell me why. Most made it on time (and went home on time too), but I was quite unpleasant to those who didn’t show up when the clock struck that hour.
I cringe when I recall my behaviour and try not to dwell on those memories, but it all came crashing back when Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a hostel warden-style set of rules for his new ministers.
According to news reports, topping the list of the PM’s dos and don’ts for his council of ministers was every strait-laced boss’ favourite weapon—punctuality. News agency PTI said Modi asked his ministers to reach office on time and “channelise all their energy into ministerial work”. According to a source quoted in one report, “They were told work should be done in office, not at home.”
I can’t help observing that one of their main ministerial tasks requires them to tweet regularly (here and here) tagging/praising @narendramodi. Surely that’s a skill that doesn’t require them to be in office to excel at? In Britain, where civil servants have unions to fight for their right not to return to office, Modi’s work rules would be dismissed as Luddite.
My dad has been at the same workplace for 50 years; I switched easily every few years, saved enough, and opted out. But most millennials I know grapple with debt and unemployment, forcing some to move back to their childhood homes. In the pandemic, the number of young Americans staying with their parents was higher than the previous peak during the Great Depression, a trend that’s mirrored in other countries too.
Even as work-life balance discussions get more airtime with every successive generation, young employees seem to have less time than ever. Many I know work for companies that take sadistic pleasure in dangling the downsising sword over their employees’ heads.
“I think the word of the day is going to be flexibility,” Jane Fraser, Citibank’s new CEO told Time magazine last year. Some other things she announced when she took over in March 2021: Zoom-free Fridays; a firm-wide Citi Reset Day holiday to counter pandemic fatigue; a ‘hybrid’ work culture that allows employees to work from office and home. Fraser asked employees to focus on work-life balance, schedule calls only during during traditional working hours.
Unlike Modi’s textbook talk on workplace rules, Fraser’s message to her employees communicated empathy and compassion—and a desire to collaborate.
The happiest countries in the world are the fastest to have the right conversations about the future of work.
Finland has practised flexi-work for decades. Iceland’s four-day work week experiment, conducted over four years, was a resounding success. “It’s an interesting question as to whether we will ever go back to work in exactly the same way as before,” Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said last year. A Norwegian study conducted before the pandemic estimated that 38% of jobs could be done from home.
To my mind, the most successful leadership model we’ve seen in recent years—it values kindness above everything—is the one practised by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“We need our leaders to be able to empathise with the circumstances of others; to empathise with the next generation that we’re making decisions on behalf of,” she says in her book I Know This To Be True. “And if we focus only on being seen to be the strongest, most powerful person in the room, then I think we lose what we’re meant to be here for. So I’m proudly focused on empathy, because you can be both empathetic and strong.”
Now that’s someone who speaks my language.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.