Monday, 30th October 2017

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Crash and burn: When switching off is not an option

In India labour laws prescribe fixed daily and weekly working hours for employees, but they are seldom observed

  • Published 31.05.19, 9:18 AM
  • Updated 31.05.19, 9:18 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Even though most labour laws in India prescribe fixed daily and weekly working hours for employees — they must be paid overtime for any hours beyond such stipulations — these norms are seldom observed. (Shutterstock)

Human health — both physical and mental — is the sum total of many parts. There seemed to be a brief period of confusion around this a few days ago when the World Health Organization first listed ‘burnout’ as a medical condition in its International Classification of Diseases — this is looked upon as a global yardstick for health insurance companies and diagnosticians — and then removed it from the list shortly after, claiming that it remains an “occupational phenomenon” rather than an actual medical condition. The WHO has now listed burnout as a “syndrome... resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. However, it must be acknowledged that even if it is a syndrome, there are conditions that feed into it that must be identified and treated. The WHO’s definition itself has listed one of these conditions: chronic stress at the workplace. How is this to be “successfully managed” so as to contain the energy depletion and exhaustion that result from it?

To answer this question satisfactorily in the context of India, the changing nature of professional life, especially in the organized sector, must be taken into account and viewed through the lens of the law and the concept of leisure. Even though most labour laws in India prescribe fixed daily and weekly working hours for employees — they must be paid overtime for any hours beyond such stipulations — these norms are seldom observed. Moreover, a highly competitive work environment makes it almost impossible for large numbers of aspiring people to switch off completely from work at any time, whether or not their companies demand it. Adding to the problem is the fact that the idea of leisure is now heavily based on electronic connectivity. This, too, has a direct effect on people’s overall health — sedentary activities such as prolonged screen viewing have been linked to the risk of obesity, diabetes and mental illness, and excessive exposure to screens is also known to disrupt healthy sleeping patterns. It must be recognized that the advancement of technology creates a strange paradox: in the process of rendering work easier, it enables the taking on of more and more work. This pushes large numbers of people to stretch themselves thin as they labour under the illusion of increased efficiency. In the light of this, there arises an interesting question: while the implementation of working conditions that do not cause exhaustion can only be achieved through education and awareness, what do the growing levels of burnout mean for people for whom switching off is seldom an option — for instance, those employed in the political sphere?