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Coronavirus | Working from home, IT employees battle job pressures & mental health issues

The sector employs about 40-50 lakh people, majority of them being migrants working across different cities.

April 01, 2020 / 04:54 PM IST

Naina V*, a team manager with a top IT firm in Chennai, has been putting in at least 12-13 hours of work per day. Her day starts as early as 8 am, with a conference call, and when she finally shuts her laptop, it is usually past 8 pm, and sometimes even 12 am.

“My family is obviously not happy. I cannot help out my aged mother as the work never ends. But what can I do when work keeps piling up?” she asked.

This is the story of hundreds of IT professionals who are working from home after the nation-wide 21-day lockdown came into force, starting March 25, to contain the outbreak of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

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While this has kept them safe, scores of IT employees Moneycontrol talked to were also worried about work pressures and stress as deadlines neared. Some of them have even developed mental health issues.

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Elavarasan Raja, General Secretary, Forum for IT Employees (FITE), an IT union that has over 10,000 members, said that since employees started working from home, productivity had gone up. “Some employees are working 12-14 hours, as opposed to 9 hours they put in office,” he said.

This, is addition to pressure to answer calls and expectations set by some managers to take on tasks at any time of the day, has let to rising work stress among IT employees.

“This expectation is unfair,” said Abhishek K*, an IT employee from Chennai.

Work from home (WFH) has more challenges as opposed to working from office. One, connectivity is a major issue. With more people working from home, there have been cases of internet speed falling drastically, making it difficult for employees to work at the same capacity. Two, an IT employee pointed out that some of the tools that they use in office are just not configured to WFH.

“So when you expect same productivity, you can never switch-off. There is no balance,” Abhishek complained. While some companies have asked employees to take time off, others are asking staff to work from offices.

Pavanjit Mane, State President – FITE (Maharashtra), said, “We are still seeing companies making employees come to office in the name of essential services.”

All employees, except essential IT services such as networking, are mandated to WFH. As some firms continue to struggle to offer WFH to all employees, Mane pointed out that companies are using the essential services tag to get IT workers to work out of office.

Mental health issues

Apart from this, IT employees are at the risk of facing mental health issues.

The sector employs about 40-50 lakh people, spread across Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Pune, majority of them being migrants. When the lockdown was announced by state governments and later the Centre, not many were able to get home.

“We are seeing a lot of these employees, who are alone, suffering from anxiety and depression,” said Alagunambi Welkin, General Secretary, Union for IT & ITeS employees (UNITE), another IT union.

Take the case of Sonu Chatterjee*, a data scientist working for an IT company in Bengaluru. Sonu is from Kolkata and living alone in Bengaluru. With shops and companies shut, his area has been rather quiet. “It is disturbing,” he said. “I am living alone here with no one around. I could not go back home, where my aged parents are staying alone,” he said. Sonu started working from home 10 days back.

“It felt like the world is coming to an end. It is hard,” he said. After much persuasion from friends, he moved in with one of them.

“We are seeing more such employees who are showing serious signs of depression and suicidal thoughts,” said Welkin and explained that the union is trying to help such employees by checking in with them on a daily basis, assigning task to engage them and in worst cases getting them counselling support.

*names changed to protect identity

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Swathi Moorthy
first published: Apr 1, 2020 04:54 pm

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