There’s simply no concept of work-life balance in Pakistan. Whenever it comes to policies related to the benefit of the organisations, employees are made to work for longer hours and days a week; however, when the employees’ wellbeing is at stake, it is outrightly ignored.
Newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif did something similar when he announced a six-day workweek soon after coming to power. He also directed the federal government employees to attend offices at 8 am instead of 10 am, urging them to work day and night for the progress and prosperity of the country. At the same time, PM Sharif announced a 10 per cent raise in salaries of employees earning less than Rs100,000 and a similar hike in pensions of retired government servants, while also increasing the minimum wage to Rs25,000 per month.
The announcement was good for optics and was widely welcomed by the public, but soon the government realised that it will cost too much to the national exchequer and with diminishing reserves, it would not be possible to have an added financial burden. In an apparent U-turn, the government reverted the decision with Miftah Ismail saying the government is not raising the salaries since they were raised only a couple of months ago, and that the issue will now be considered in the budget.
When offices will be open for the sixth working day, more state resources will be used.
Nonetheless, the six working days decision remained in place and despite resentment, federal government employees observed a working Saturday last week. The State Bank of Pakistan had also followed suit and implemented the same orders which were opposed in a protest staged by the employees outside the bank’s building in Karachi with the demand that they already work overtime and receive little compensation against it. Similarly, federal government employees had also given a call for protest. While making the announcement, the workaholic prime minister did not ponder upon the impact of this decision since many people live far from families, have kids or elderly parents to look after, or are working on a side hustle. With Saturdays on, it is practically not possible for them to spend time home or fulfil other commitments, thus leading to fatigue and frustration.
Longer working hours do not guarantee the productivity of the employees. Spending more time at work does not mean employees will be working all the time. Research has increasingly shown that employees are only productive for three to four hours in an eight-hour working day and given that we already neither have conducive work environments nor employee-friendly HR policies in most organisations of the country, employees find little motivation to attend offices. Even the salaries in our government jobs are not market competitive; most of the people are merely stuck at their jobs because they cannot find a better opportunity and they are bound to earn to make ends meet and support their families. The change in office timings in Ramzan is making the employees more sleep-deprived which will be counterproductive for not just their performance but for their health as well.
With the world transforming to hybrid working models during Covid-19, flexibility is the new norm. According to a Gallup study, flexible work drives employee engagement. Engaged employees are more enthusiastic, energetic and have better physical health, eventually leading to improved performance. Organisations across the world are adopting work from home model which allows the employees to work more, reduce turnover, increase engagement and achieve work-life balance. It is high time employers realise that the focus should be on the completion of tasks and not on the time spent in offices. The workweek as we see now originates from manufacturing, where more products are produced when longer hours a spent on a shift. Similar is the case for people working in the services industry such as medical professionals or law enforcement personnel. However, for the knowledge economy, there is a reverse relationship between longer working hours and productivity.
While the government intends to improve the economy with this step, it somehow overlooked the energy and climate costs of this decision. The Energy Division has in the past opposed a six-day working week as it increases the oil and utility bills for the government sector. When offices will be open for the sixth working day, more state resources will be used. With the country already struggling with energy shortages, electricity will be used in public offices for another day and with people commuting to the office, there will be more traffic with the smoke leading to environmental pollution. On the other hand, it adds to the commute costs for employees as well. It also makes it harder for women in the workforce who have to look after kids and do household chores as well.
Many European countries like Iceland, Scotland, Sweden, Spain, and some companies in Germany and Japan have a four-day workweek. Belgium also jumped on the bandwagon announcing the same while the UAE also adopted a new 4.5-day work week with the start of the New Year. However, high-income countries can implement such decisions easily compared to middle-income and developing ones. Most countries in Asia, like Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India have longer working hours. Having said that, the need of the hour is that the government and organisations focus on improving the skills and knowledge of the employees and bringing them at par with the rapidly changing world instead of sticking them into a toxic work cycle. Happy employees are productive employees and to ensure productivity, we would have to outgrow the traditional work mindset and move towards flexible solutions.
The writer is a communications and IR professional. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mahnoorrsheikh.
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