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Burnout Leave, Wellness Leave? India’s Startups Wake Up To Remote Work Reality

Burnout Leave, Wellness Leave? India’s Startups Wake Up To Remote Work Reality

Remote work has increased the working hours for employees and blurring the lines between work and leisure

The lockdown stretching to nearly six months has increased burnout symptoms among employees

Razorpay, Freshworks and other Indian startups have started offering burnout leaves or wellness leaves to promote mental wellbeing

When India’s coronavirus lockdown began on March 25, 2020, many companies had already volunteered to move to remote operations with employees working from home. At the time, it was being seen as a temporary adjustment, but six months later remote work is here to stay for better or for worse. 

With it came more family time, ability to work from smaller cities, zero commuting costs — these were some of the more obvious benefits. But every coin has two sides to it and in this case, the other side of remote work is employee burnout as days stretched on without that end-of-the-day feeling that comes with going to the office. 

Given that we all were in quarantine, the boundary between work and leisure has also blurred over the past few months. Juggling household chores and office calls has become a constant loop that only ends with bed time and again repeats itself the next day.

According to a survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research, an average workday for employees in North America, Europe, and the Middle East has increased by 48 minutes after lockdown, while meetings are up by 13% and people are sending about 1.4 emails per day on average. The study observed employee behavior over two 8 week periods before and after Covid-19 lockdowns. 

The Burnout Syndrome

WHO defines burnout as an occupational disease caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Some characteristics of burnout include exhaustion, feelings of negativity or cynicism towards one’s job, and drop-in professional efficacy.

Even though remote work allows employees to work in supposedly more comfortable environments, this does not reduce the risk of burnout. According to another survey by jobs platform Monster, in July 2020, over 69% of the 284 surveyed employees in the US reported burnout symptoms while working from home, 

“Although work from home may have offered you a break from the commute, office structure and your regular daily routine for the past few months, the mental break from work, as well as technology, is equally important,” Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster said. 

Despite experiencing burnout symptoms, 59% of the surveyed employees are found to be taking fewer leaves as compared to pre-covid times. 

“The reasons for anyone to face burnout especially in the lockdown could be increased expectations from their employers, lack of social activities to balance the work stress, additional tasks to be done at home like housework and taking care of children and elderly, insecurity of losing a job due to the economic scenario, taking care of children and elderly and constant underlying fear of the pandemic and its effects,” Dilshad Khurana, Head Counsellor at Mpower1on1 Helpline.

Companies too have started acknowledging the psychological impact of long work hours and disappearing boundaries between work and personal life. In May 2020, Google announced one day paid leave for employees to address the remote work burnout. A similar trend is also seen in Indian startups, who are increasingly trying to make workspaces conducive for their employees. 

Startups Look At Wellness Leaves 

Like Google, Chennai-based Freshworks also offered a paid day off in July to its employees, as a way to reward employees for their long work hours during the lockdown. Yoga and fitness startup Sarva too announced paid leave to promote mental wellbeing among its employees in May. 

“We humans have never been confined to closed spaces for such a long time before covid-19. When forced into such situations, anxiety kicks in about various issues and that’s why we decided to offer a burnout holiday,” Sarvesh Shashi, founder Sarva told TOI. The company is planning to offer a similar one-day burnout leave in August as well.

Bigger companies such as Deloitte took innovative approaches by introducing a shared leave bank concept wherein employees can donate leaves and others who need leaves can avail them from the bank.

Anuradha Bharat, the head for people operations at fintech startup Razorpay told Inc42, “With the current scenario (coronavirus lockdown) continuing indefinitely, burnout is the largest concern that a lot of employees are facing as the lines between personal and professional time are blurring.” 

As a response, Razorpay announced that the second Wednesday of every month will now be a ‘No Meeting Day’ to reduce the number of internal meetings. Further, the company has also renamed its sick leaves to “wellness leaves”. Under this new format, Razorpay has expanded both scope and count of leaves needed for any employee to be fully functional at work.

“Wellness leaves cover mental health, burnout, being sick, menstrual cramps and anything else that affects people’s physical and mental well being,” Razorpay CEO Harshil Mathur noted. 

Mathur added, “While this sounds like a small change, naming it ‘wellness leave’ was a really important part of this decision to remove the stigma of sickness that discourages people from taking leave for things like mental health.” 

Update | 15:05, August 22, 2020
A quote from the psychologist Dilshad Khurana was added to the story.