Mumbai-based IT sector employee Shravan Manikandan had been working close to 14 hours a day since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. Clubbing the Diwali holiday, he decided to take a week-leave in November, his first in 2020. But throughout the next two weeks, his team members and his reporting manager taunted for his leave.
Manikandan felt humiliated because his colleagues made him feel guilty for taking leave that he was entitled to. They questioned him on why he needed to take this leave when nobody else took leave this year in his 7-member team.
“It wasn’t as if I took off without informing my team. It was a well-deserved vacation and I simply needed time off. Why should I be shamed for it,” he says.
Amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak where long working hours at home is the new-normal, the culture of ‘leave shaming’ among corporates has cropped out. This involves the practice of singling out colleagues who take leave/vacations and shaming them, making them feel guilty for taking time off.
Corporates may go great lengths to talk about how ‘work-life balance’ is the key mantra at their workplace. Look beyond that and you will find an inherent culture of overworking and leave shaming.
Remote working means that work hours are inevitably extended on a daily basis. Rather than a 9-6 day, the working hours begin as early as 7am and end as late as 11pm. Mental health helplines are also seeing a rise in stress-related calls from working professionals primarily due to working without breaks.
Amidst this, the basic perk of taking a vacation at least once or twice a year is being seen as a luxury. Worst still, organisations are even reprimanding younger colleagues seeking ‘personal time off’ once in three or four months.
Bengaluru’s Lakshmi Ray who works in the IT operations team of a global bank was discouraged from taking leaves even when she explicitly stated that she was facing anxiety issues.
“I am already taking professional help for my anxiety. All I asked was for a day leave after four months. But I was discouraged saying that the senior management team hasn’t taken even one day leave. Why should I take inspiration from this?” she added.
Ray is also of the view that romanticising the concept of working without breaks is also a reason why corporates portray it as an achievement.
Tesla’s Elon Musk, for instance, publicly stated that he doesn’t believe in taking time off or taking vacations and also gave instances of key projects failing when he went on a one-off leave.
But remember that Musk is a billionaire and will be able to afford crores in treatment or medication for stress and anxiety. You and I may be sacked for long leaves of absence due to overworking-related stress and don't have the luxury to sit at home.
Human resource officials are also of the view that such practices by the top management in a company sets unreasonable expectations from the staff.
“If the CEO of a company says hey, I have never taken a day off in my life or I don’t believe in vacations, what is the message that goes across to his/her team? It is unhealthy to work 365 days without a break,” says Pune-based HR consultant Pradipta Satam.
Satam also suggests that irrespective of what colleagues think, professionals must set aside time for themselves and family. She says that when it is part of the HR policy, every employee has the right to take their sanctioned leaves irrespective of the pandemic.
The Japanese work culture is also cited commonly at Indian workplaces to show how long working hours without breaks will pay off. However, these corporations fail to mention that death due to overworking (called Karoshi in Japanese) isn't uncommon in that country.
So, the next time our boss or colleague chides you for taking leave or gives you the ‘Elon Musk’ example, don’t be guilt tripped into cancelling it. You have every right to take that leave. You’ve earned it.