Work-Life Balance…some thoughts


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The term ‘work-life balance’ is a loosely used term and means different things to different people. However, consensus is that most of us use the term in the following sense. It basically refers to a situation where we are provided with enough opportunity, time and energy to pursue our passions, hobbies and interests outside of office. While for most of us this might just mean spending time with the family, kids at home, for a few of us, this might also refer to the fact that we have enough time to train for marathons, pursue hobbies like trekking, cycling, quizzing, theatre, music, reading, etc. In a nutshell, work-life balance refers to a situation where we have enough time outside of office to take a break, unwind and recharge our batteries which will directly contribute to our productivity inside office as well.

However, given that most of us spend at least 12 hrs outside of home every day, including travel time to and from office, this term has become just a dream. Added to that is the fact that most of us live in nuclear families and consequently most of our weekends are spent in purchasing groceries, cleaning our homes, paying utility bills, etc. We therefore are pretty much left with no time to pursue any kind of interests or hobbies. In fact the situation is so bad for most of us that we only have around an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening when we get to see our spouse, kids, talk to them and spend some quality time with them.

As if this was not bad enough, all the time we spend in office is also spent tackling hectic deadlines, pressure-filled deliverables, managing hyper competitive colleagues who will snatch away that elusive 1st bucket rating and promotions, and ever demanding supervisors. All our time in office is spent either looking at our monitors or over our shoulders at what people sitting around us are doing to get that competitive edge over them. Even the people who profess not to be worried by appraisals and promotions do get affected to whatever small extent when they see that the person who got promoted was someone who in their opinion was not necessarily a deserving candidate.

Add to this the tension we all face in our journey to and from office. Even if we are using company transport, the fact that the bus drivers make it a point to make the journey like a roller-coaster ride does not help. The loud blaring horns, the constant swerving and changing of lanes, the frequent sudden brakes, all of this make this journey a terrible one. I am not even going to talk about the people who use their own transport to office. Lesser said about their travails, the better.

The easiest thing for all of us to do in such situations is to blame our supervisor, our boss, our company for ensuring such a bad work-life balance for all of us. But how many of us have taken a step back and thought about how much responsibility we ourselves should take for the situation we find ourselves in. Yes, client commitments, deadlines, timeline pressures, etc are not self imposed, but the high expectations we have from ourselves, our desire to get a 1st bucket appraisal every time, our desire to get promoted every 24 months, all of these are our own doing, right???

That and the fact that we all get so caught up in the rat race, that we don’t realize when we succumb to mob mentality and start running with the crowd. Most of the times, we do things because everyone around us is doing it. We want a promotion, earn more money, because everyone wants that. How many of us stop and think, hey, is that what I really want from life? Am I not better off spending more time with my family, loved ones, doing things that I really love doing? How many of us ask ourselves these questions?

Read this wonderful thought-provoking article in the Fortune magazine which asks us to stop blaming our boss for a crazy work-life. Although the examples and references are to the US context, am sure we are all smart enough to draw parallels to our Indian context and glean necessary lessons from the same.

Image courtesy: www.dilbert.com

Customer Service in India….not quite dead yet…


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When we talk of ‘customer-service’ in India, I am reminded of what my Services Marketing Professor back at IIM Indore used to tell…in India, a customer is one who will “kasht-mar”, loosely translated in Hindi, it means “someone who will die (mar) due to the kasht (troubles)” caused by the seller. Using that analogy, you can imagine my impressions of customer-service in India. And truth be told, in the 20+ yrs that I have actively, individually been using services in India such as banks, mobile phones, mobile service providers, cable TV providers, and other such assorted services, the customer-service has been nothing too great. In fact, if I managed to get decent service, that was a bonus, and if I managed to get a smile from the service provider, that was like a double bonus 🙂 .

The entire above paragraph was just to give the readers an idea about my general perception of customer service in India. Please note that these views are based purely on my personal experiences and are probably not a general statement about all service providers across India.

This being said, when I walked into GK Vale, Photographers, at the New BEL Road branch at Bangalore for two simple requests, I wasn’t expecting too much from them. All I wanted them to do was to scan one photo and give me 3 prints of a larger size. And the second request was to cut out one person from one photo and another person from another photo and merge them both into one new photo and give me 3 prints of the new photo. Simple enough, right?

Wrong…first up, the person behind the counter, the so called ‘expert’ informed me that the merging cannot be done without even enquiring with the person who was actually in charge of the merging process. He didn’t even bother asking the Adobe Photoshop expert whether it could be done and flatly refused even to take the order. It took my intervention and speaking to the person behind the computer and showing her the two photos after which he took the order for the merging.

I was then informed that the merging would take place on the system after approximately 12 hrs and that I would be required to come back to the showroom on Sunday morning at around 11 AM to confirm whether the merge was correct, and then the photo would be printed and delivered to me by around 6 PM on Sunday evening. While I didn’t understand why it would take them that much time, I consented for the same.

On Saturday evening at around 4 PM I was then called on my phone and informed that the merging was done on the system and that I had to approve of the same before the photo could be printed. When I went back to the showroom, one person was watching some B-Grade horror movie on one computer, and another person was checking his Gmail. While I understand that these things can be done when there are no customers around, the fact that even after I entered the store and stood there for a good two minutes without anybody caring for me, while the movie viewing and mail checking was going on was quite disturbing to say the least. After a while, the person watching the movie turned around and asked me what I wanted. When I told her that somebody had called me to approve of the merged photo, she just turned around and continued watching her movie. After standing there quietly for around 2 more minutes, when I asked her what to do next, she told me that the person performing the merge had gone out and would be back in 15 mins. I then sat down waiting for the Photoshop expert to arrive.

And then when the expert did arrive, she promptly parked herself next to this lady and started watching the movie. It was only when I spoke to her and told her that I had come over to approve a photo did she get up and show me the merged photo.  I was then informed that I could collect all my photos, 3 prints of the enlarged photo and 3 prints of the merged photo at 8.15 PM the same evening.

Then I made my third trip to the showroom at 8.15 PM on Saturday, when I was informed that while 3 prints of the merged photo were available, only 2 prints of the enlarged photo were available. Apparently there was some error when they placed the order with the lab where these photos were printed. While errors are acceptable, the fact that the information was provided to me without so much as a simple “sorry” or any kind of regret in behavior/tone of voice/attitude was what irritated me to the core.

I was asked to come on Sunday evening at 3 PM to collect the one remaining print.

All of these experiences ticked me off so much that I went ahead and did something for the first time in my life. I actually sat down and narrated these experiences in a mail and sent it to 3 mail ids which were mentioned in the store as Customer Care mail ids. The typing out and sending out of the complaint itself were my wife’s and my way of letting out our frustrations without actually hoping for any kind of responses or results.

What happened later completely took my wife and me by surprise. We actually got a call from the CEO of GK Vale enquiring about the exact nature of my complaint. We were then informed that this particular branch, the New BEL Road one was 1 of 5 franchisees of GK Vale and that there were 26 other stores in Bangalore, Mangalore and Hubli which were run by the company itself. Apparently, a few other customers had complained about the poor customer service at this particular branch and the franchisee had already been warned about the same. Based on what the CEO told me, I get the feeling that this was the last straw and that the company would withdraw the franchise from this particular guy.

What happens to the New BEL Road franchise is not the point of this long post at all. Rather, the fact that somebody as big as the CEO of the company took time out to read my mail and give me a call, apologize for what happened and explain the corrective action being taken in this regard, that completely surprised me and left behind a really good opinion about the individual and the brand in question. For an Indian brand to be so sensitive to its customer opinions, take action based on complaints, and that too so promptly, was really surprising to me. I guess Indian consumers still have some hope for better customer service after all.

On a related note, read this Firstpost article about the author’s experience with Amazon.com customer- service.

Image courtesy: GK Vale official website

The Mahatma, the Movie and Mindsets


January 30th, Martyrs’ Day, the day The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi passed away. One of his favorite bhajans was

raghupati rāghav rājārām,

patit pāvan sītārām

sītārām, sītārām,

bhaj pyāre tū sītārām

īśvar allāh tero nām,

sab ko sanmati de bhagavān

 

Literally translated it means

 

Chief of the house of Raghu, Lord Rama,

Uplifters of those who have fallen, Sita and Rama,

Sita and Rama, Sita and Rama,

O beloved, praise Sita and Rama,

God and Allah are your names,

Bless everyone with this wisdom, Lord.

 

Such a nice and small poem which still holds complete relevance in this day and age. When The Mahatma sang this song during the Dandi Salt March, its popularity soared so much that it remains to be sung to this day all over India whenever anybody thinks of him.

That being said, it is quite ironical that today was the day I read these three news items –

  • The controversy caused by SRK’s article in The Outlook magazine, now hosted on NDTV [Link]
  • The controversy caused by the TN Govt over the release of Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam [Link]
  • The pre-emptive ban imposed on Salman Rushdie by the West Bengal Govt [Link]

All of this leads me to wonder just like Kamal Hassan did, do I want to live in this country whose constitution (law of the land) calls it a democratic secular republic. Well, we do have democracy at least in name, to the extent that all of us who are more than 18 yrs old can vote (that is, if we can find our names in the electoral rolls and if somebody else has already not voted in our names).

However, given these headlines and based on various conversations that I have had with well educated colleagues, friends, family members and everybody in general, I struggle to find even 1% of secularism in this country. All of us are so tied to our belief systems, our prejudices, our notions, our stereotypes of how various communities are, how people from these communities behave, etc.

Most of us seem to believe that the only way we can live in India is to judge people, events and base our reactions and lives accordingly. Nobody seems to be willing to be just a little more open-hearted, welcoming of dissonance, welcoming of disagreements and overall truly secular, in all sense of the word.

Wonder if it is just me who is frustrated at all that is happening right now, or are there more folks like me out there thinking similarly?

The end of role models


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Being an avid quizzer right from my high school days, my earliest exposure to Lance Armstrong, the cyclist was the fact that he was the up and coming star of the sport (I am talking about the 1990s here, before he became the sporting superstar that he went on to become). I kept reading news here and there about how he was winning quite a few tournaments, and how he was well in the process of redefining the sport of cycling as a spectator sport.

By virtue of his achievements in the sport, Armstrong contributed to cycling becoming another sport which started enjoying a sizeable fan following. And the story of his comeback to cycling post his cancer treatment, and winning all those Tour De France events, well, that is the stuff that sporting legends and sports movie scripts are made of. His most famous and visible contribution to the world was The Livestrong  Foundation, which to this date has the following words in its manifesto – “We fight to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.”

Coming from somebody who is a survivor and not just any survivor but a multiple championship winning survivor in a tough sport, Lance Armstrong has always served as a role model to lots of youngsters the world over, and also as a very strong inspiration to all people fighting cancer across the world.

All this being said, the events over the past few months have cast a huge shadow over the aura of Armstrong. While it was the allegations of using performance enhancing drugs a few months ago, his public spat with the USADA and the WADA put a large shadow of doubt over the entire cycling community. The fact that he not only rejected these allegations outright, but also went on to blame all these authorities of trying to unjustly malign him struck me as quite funny. What took the cake was the fact that he even refused to fight his lifetime ban from cycling, the sport which had given him all that he has in his life today.

And yesterday, the news that he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and supposedly confessed to engaging in the usage of performance enhancing drugs simply took the icon Lance Armstrong and converted him to a villain of sorts. While it might have been “acceptable” (and I use this word with caution) for a normal sportsperson to engage in this sort of behavior to gain an unfair advantage, the fact that somebody as inspirational, as influential, as iconic as Armstrong did this, and probably ran a huge operation to cover it up as well, makes it quite an unpardonable crime.

While the USADA, the WADA, courts and other people might sue Armstrong for his last dollar for having actively concealed his doping practices, who will answer for the millions of people who absolutely adored and idolized Armstrong for being their inspiration to fight cancer. The fact that he robbed them of inspiration, hope to succeed in life after cancer, who will take Armstrong to courts for that? Who will sue him for cheating a lot of people by pretending to be a role model for them?

The fact remains that Armstrong is just another in a long line of inspirational sportspersons who have ended up using public affection and public love for them wrongly (Hansie Cronje, Tiger Woods, Mohamed Azharuddin to name a few that I can think of immediately). All of these above mentioned people were clearly aware of the fact that they enjoyed public love and affection due to their achievements in the sporting arena. They clearly understood that they were in a position where their actions could influence the way their sports was viewed by the general public. They understood that they were role models for youngsters who followed their sport. But the fact that they still chose to break the rules is in my opinion, quite unpardonable.

While a normal individual like you and me can break rules (even that is unpardonable if you ask me), our scope of influence and control are only over a few people who actually know us. However, when public personalities, especially popular sportspersons break rules so unflinchingly, the wrong sort of message is sent out. And that is a tragedy for anybody who loves sport, and who enjoys sport based on the understanding that sports probably is the only place in the world where rules are respected and is participated in “sportingly” (for lack of a better term).

‘Vicarious’ grand-parenting


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We have all heard of parents living their lives ‘vicariously’ through their children, ie, parents trying to get their children to do everything that they couldn’t do when they were children. We can see numerous examples of this in India today, like parents forcing their kids to take up IIT JEE exams simply because they were not good enough to clear them and make it to the IITs when they were younger, parents forcing their kids to learn singing and dancing so that they can participate in and hopefully excel at the various reality shows on television, parents forcing their kids to join Cricket Coaching Camps in the anticipation that there just might be a budding Sachin Tendulkar or a Virat Kohli in their kid, the list goes on.

But then, how many of us have heard of grandparents living vicariously through their grandchildren’s lives!!! Case in point, the first thing that my dad said when he saw my lil one’s fingers on Day 1 – “She’s got such long lovely fingers. She can become a surgeon.” And this was before my daughter had even begun suckling at her mother’s breast and was all of 14 hrs old!!! Now I might be reading too much into my dad’s statements, but it goes on to show that my lil one’s grandparents have some unfulfilled wishes which even me (courtesy of being the only child) have not been able to satisfactorily fulfill so far. Given my dad’s first reaction at my daughter’s fingers, I am guessing becoming a doctor was somewhere in his list of unfulfilled wishes from me.

Now I have always had ‘working parents’ and as a result, most of my toddler years were handled by my maternal grandparents. While my mother did spend time with me in the mornings and the evenings, I am assuming most of this time was spent in ‘transactional activities’ such as feeding, bathing, sleeping, etc, rather than any real time spent by my mother in understanding my ‘real personality’. Not that I am saying that my parents don’t understand me, am just trying to make the point that they probably didn’t have the time to get to know the ‘real me’. I am not blaming them at all given that they had to put in the time at the office to ensure that they were able to support all my needs financially. I understand this a little more today given that no amount of money is enough to make me feel that I can provide for my wife and daughter financially, what with the increasing costs of education, and even normal things such as fruits which will enable my daughter to have good health.

With this background, it is quite clear that while my parents brought me up well, they probably have a few things which they wanted me to do and didn’t quite get the time or the inclination to teach me when I was younger to get me to do those things. So they go ahead and do the next best thing they can – start gradually influencing my toddler to show an interest in things which they feel she might be good at, for eg, buy her books so that she starts reading at a very young age, buy her educational toys so that she starts her stacking games earlier than other kids, etc. As if this wasn’t enough, they are also ensuring that they spoil her like mad (something they didn’t have the time to do with me when I was young) and cater to all her whims and fancies like giving her snacks (which me and my wife are somewhat against as we want her to avoid ‘junk food’ for as long as possible), show her TV (which once again me and my wife want to avoid for as long as possible).

While both my wife and me understand that some of these things come with the ‘grandparenting territory’, we are just about to formalize various rules and regulations which are ‘non-negotiable’ especially around what the toddler can be fed and how much TV time she gets in a day, etc. I guess some parts of us are also living ‘vicariously’ through our daughter by enforcing these rules for her.

What is the point of this long post which borders on a rant? The fact that I am moving back to Bangalore to live with my parents in around 3 months from now, the fact that this is the first time that my wife would have to live with her in-laws in 6 yrs of married life, the fact that at this point in time there are just too many differences in the way that my parents and my wife view life in general. This is something that is looming large in my head and something that I spend a lot of my time thinking about. I just had to get it out of the system and what better medium than this blog to do so.