Work-Life Balance: A harmonious division

"It is impossible to have a great day at work if you have had a bad day at home. And equally, it is impossible to have a relaxed evening if the day at work has been stressful."


The recent mail of the head of Amazon’s India business, Amit Agarwal to his colleagues about the importance of work-life balance may be well-intentioned but I am not sure if mature companies don’t have other ways of dealing with the matter. Mr. Agarwal is reported to have told his team in a memo to stop responding to emails or work calls between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. in the interest of "work-life harmony."

I will be sure to ask Bikram who runs AWS in India whether Mr Agarwal’s advice holds for the folks at AWS too because that would have me worried considering our dependence on them. I don’t think I can handle well an auto response from the person handling our account at AWS urging me to get back to him between 8 am and 6 PM as he has been told to pursue work-life balance.

Levity aside, I sincerely believe that each individual has to decide what constitutes work life balance in their own respective lives. A regimented approach may certainly inculcate a certain discipline but to say that your time from 8 am to 6 pm belongs to the firm while you are free to do what you wish from 6 pm to 8 am may not be the right way to approach the problem.

All of us have only one life to lead. It is impossible to have a great day at work if you have had a bad day at home. And equally it is impossible to have a relaxed evening if the day at work has been stressful. Once one recognises this basic truth and so long as the organization trusts the employee enough, the employee can find their balance in their own respective lives.

What Mr Agarwal’s suggestion would also mean is that the company owns you from 8 am to 6 pm when they will demand their undivided attention. That will also mean that parents will need permission from their managers to attend their kid’s Parent-Teacher meeting in school for which they would have to apply well in advance, not knowing whether the permission will come through.

What if they had to go to the airport to pick a friend up or drop someone off who is catching an afternoon flight? What if the maid forgot to pick the kid up from school and the employee needs to attend to it during office hours? What if the only time a doctor is able to give an appointment is bang in the middle of the working day? Would the employee have to seek out their manager to get permission on every occasion? Surely it is better to trust the employee to do what is right and whatever is appropriate. Conversely, what if an emergency comes up in office and the employee cannot be contacted. In this globalised world, businesses operate 24x7 after all.

Which is why, in our firm, all of us enjoy the total flexibility to achieve work-life balance by having the freedom to work as we please, from where we please and when we please. In fact as I never tire to tell my colleagues, they must be able to watch a Monday matinee with a clear conscience. I don’t know if many of them do but from the number of shopping bags many of them come back with after lunch, they certainly take this freedom seriously.

Of course the system is prone to abuse and is frequently abused too. But here at IRIS, we have not wavered from our commitment to freedom. As I have learned over the years, a colleague who recognizes that freedom is the greatest bondage is worth several times their weight in the most precious metal you can name. Such colleagues will also deliver. And the more one has of such colleagues, the easier the business becomes to manage. They don’t need to be told to do what needs to be done. They will simply do the right thing. Because they simply value their freedom too much.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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