26 May 2022 17:49:49 IST

The CEO and co-founder of TalentEase, Fernandez is a thought leader in education and a consultant and coach to school heads, teachers and parents. He has 18 years of outsourcing leadership experience in the Asia Pacific, consulting with and servicing global and regional clients. He was previously partner/managing director with Accenture, Singapore. He was the COO with Hewitt Outsourcing APAC, and President India Life Hewitt. He has overseen teams in sales, operations, client and account management, technology, finance and HR, and has extensive experience working with multinational clients across a wide industry and geographic spectrum. He is a sought-after speaker at education and industry conferences and is a columnist with Business Line on Campus .

WFH: When work fails home

There’s an extremely interesting TV series that debuted on Apple recently called Severance. The hypothesis is simple. What if you could separate your work and personal lives completely? The series shows people who have volunteered for a severance procedure and then go to work for Lumon, the company at the centre of the series.

When they enter the office, their memories are temporarily wiped completely clean of who they are in the outside world. In the office, they do their fairly mundane tasks and have the usual workplace relationships with colleagues but they have no idea who they are on the outside, who their families are, their friends, their hobbies, their home stress — nothing.

They are free to just focus on work. When they leave work in the evening, again their memories are wiped so that they forget everything at work. If they passed a colleague in the street, they wouldn’t even recognise her.

The arrangement seems on the surface extremely practical and productive. You don’t carry work home and you don’t carry anything from home to work. But of course, as you watch the series you realise, how terrifying the implications are as the employees gradually realize they are trapped within a terrible choice they have made.

As leaders, we will face this dilemma — who are we at work and who are we at home? Are they so compartmentalised as to create almost a Jekyll and Hyde? Can our obsession with work destroy what we treasure at home? Can our stresses at home take away our effectiveness at work?

To successfully navigate this problem, leaders will find they actually need to bring their whole selves to both work and home. They will do well to keep a few things in mind while walking this tightrope.

What really matters

Mohamed El-Erian, the former CEO of investment fund PIMCO, talked about the dilemma that arose from asking his daughter to brush her teeth. She responded by writing him a note listing 22 important events in her life that he had missed because of work.

In an interview with Worth magazine, he said: “About a year ago, I asked my daughter several times to do something —brush her teeth I think it was — with no success. I reminded her that it was not so long ago that she would have immediately responded.

“She asked me to wait a minute, went to her room and came back with a piece of paper. It was a list that she had compiled of her important events and activities that I had missed due to work commitments. Talk about a wake-up call.”

Children spell love as time and no amount of fancy presents and compressed “quality time” will replace the genuine and generous time that parents spend with them. Often leaders chase money, promotions, and multi-million deals and justify their time away from home by saying that they’re doing it all to ensure everyone at home is happy and has the best of everything.

But money is just fuel, not a destination, and there’s no point filling up your tank if you’ve got nowhere to go. Many leaders end up finding they’ve spent years at the office, building a big bank balance and an asset portfolio that is the envy of their peers.

They’ve jet-setted around the world and in the process missed school annual days, health check-ups and anniversaries. When they’re finally ready to spend time with loved ones — they find those loves ones have moved on.

Spouses have picked up other interests or friends circles, children have married and got busy with their careers and lives, and our ambitious and very rich leader is sitting home all alone wondering about what could have been.

Leaders cannot let success on one side act as an excuse for failure on the other. Indra Nooyi was fond of quoting her mother telling her to “leave her crown at the office.” In effect when you’re home, be home — be a father, mother, husband, wife, friend, playmate.

Setting priorities

As I often tell the students we work with there’s no such thing as lack of time, it’s only a lack of priority. If we choose our priorities then we will make time and we will make decisions based on those priorities.

Covid provided both the opportunity and the challenge of working from home (WFH). Employers are now dealing with post-Covid realities. Employees having tasted the fruits of WFH, seem unwilling to give it up. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 professionals run by talent solutions firm Robert Half, half of the respondents currently working from home said they would look for a new job if their companies required them to return to the office full time.

Inc42 reported that Edtech firm WhiteHat Jr found their return-to-work diktat was followed by over 800 employees resigning rather than come back to office.

On the other end of the spectrum Nithin Kamath, CEO and Co-Founder of Zerodha said in an interview with Moneycontrol.com that close to 90 per cent of their employees would permanently be on work from home mode. Leaders must create work environments that meet both the professional needs of their businesses and the personal priorities of their teams.

Many employees during the enforced WFH during the pandemic, had rediscovered priorities they had lost sight off —spending time with loved ones at home, pursuing a hobby with time saved from the office commute that was no longer required. If our work ends up becoming the only thing we have as the priority in our lives, then we truly live a tragic life.

Reflecting values

One of my favourite stocks is cigarette-major ITC. I reckon it’s very undervalued versus its peers and has an excellent runway for great returns but I’ve never bought the stock because I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself making a profit on the back of people hurting themselves by smoking more.

I think the same logic applies to work. Do your company and your work at least in some way reflect your values. If not you can end up being very unhappy at work. Some of the most famous whistle-blowers ended up doing so because the gap between their personal values and what they saw practiced by their employers became too great to bear.

Some bear it in unhappy silence. Some fight a losing battle trying to make changes. Some speak out and eventually choose to walk out rather than compromise.

If there is no overlap that work has with the passions, proficiencies, and purpose (Jim Collins 3 Ps circles) of our lives then we should seriously question whether we are in the right job. It does not mean that a job will have a perfect fit with the 3 Ps but we can be creative and find aspects of the job and the impact we are able to make through it, that satisfy the 3Ps.

Maybe we are able to mentor colleagues and help them grow, maybe we’ve solved problems for our clients, maybe we have the opportunity to innovate and come up with creative approaches to a project — we have to be able to find a space in our job that overlaps with our 3Ps.

Working on this will help us avoid the ‘severance’ syndrome. As we journey through our careers and our lives, we will keep rediscovering that people and principles matter more than just profits at any cost. Leaders must not end up so busy making a living that they forget to have a life.