Excerpt on “Work-Life Balance” from Lalita Iyer’s “The Whole Shebang”

Lalita Iyer

Pitched as the “the little black dress of books for women”,  The Whole Shebang: Sticky Bits of Being a Woman is the latest book by journalist and columnist Lalita Iyer.  Here’s an excerpt from the book where she talks about  Work Life Balance.

Work Life Balance (or the art of playing office office)

There are various things that decide your comfort level in a particular job: the level of air conditioning, the state of the loos, the quality of water cooler conversations, availability of subsidized meals, and sometimes, coupons to buy groceries. Another useful bit of information is whether the company does interesting offsites or if they throw you into the banquet hall of a suburban hotel whose carpets stink.

Of course, there are things like the quality of work, job satisfaction, learning curve, the amount of bounce you feel every morning while going to work and the friends you make at work. And that’s one more thing to be said about people who change jobs – they make many more friends. Although in the time of Facebook, this may not seem like a big thing, but it is.

PC: Bloomsbury Publishing India

Finding the right job is like finding a bra that fits well; it feels just right, yet doesn’t remind you constantly that it’s a job.

One question that I still find difficult to answer honestly in an interview is: So, what is it that you really want to do? Well if I really wanted that job, it’s hard to answer this. Because what I might really want to do is carpentry. Or move to a country where I can live in a tree house and write while someone pays my bills. That’s what I’d like, right? Or I might want to style people – give them different looks, change the way they dress, their hair (I believe every woman is just a haircut and an ensemble away from looking gorgeous). Or that I want to redesign kitchens (again, no experience, but I am sure I can wing it).

When I was in advertising and walked to work (I lived in a working women’s hostel then), I used to be one of the first people to show up and naturally wanted to be one of the first people to leave as I always had other interesting things to do after work – like catch a play, a short film or just my dance class. I realised then that people (mostly in advertising) pulled rank by displaying how long they could hold an entire office to ransom before they pulled out their brains for an alleged ‘brainstorming’. Three agencies later, I decided that unless I was reporting on national calamities, these timelines just didn’t make sense. I then went on to be a journalist and worked for the newspaper and magazine industry, where although the work was far more rewarding (and it had my name on it, yay), the need for face time beyond human ability was still annoying. Your place in the organization was chiefly a reflection of how long you could keep someone waiting for an approval.

Last year, I got rejected for what I thought would be my dream job. It was the first time I found myself saying ‘we’ effortlessly about an organization, the first time I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. Unfortunately, I don’t think they took me seriously when I told them that the job could be my happily ever after.

Office time is a lot about admin. It’s about smoke breaks, tea breaks, water cooler breaks, lunch breaks, rinse, repeat. Your career will comprise many such office spaces and each one will add up in an invisible way to who you eventually become (yes, even the jobs you didn’t like).

In my earlier job with a film magazine, by the time people got into the work zone, it was usually time to go home. Till today I haven’t worked in a single office where I felt most people were optimizing their productivity. I often felt that three hours of working at home made me get a lot more done than 8-10 hours at an office. It was just a pity that people wanted to pay you five times more just for face time. I never understood that. Most of office was to me about playing ‘Meeting-meeting’. Or ‘let’s sit on it’. I guess most people sat on it so much, they got hemorrhoids. Of course, if you really like the job, none of this matters, but if you are remotely itchy, then either of these can be triggers to go hunting.

I often felt that three hours of working at home made me get a lot more done than 8-10 hours at an office. It was just a pity that people wanted to pay you five times more just for face time. I never understood that.

Some say you should work for good people. Some say it’s about the organization, never the people. I would always choose people over an organization, because no matter what I do, (even clocking 16 years), the organization will always be bigger than me. Clearly, I am not the best person to give career advice. But I can tell you this: always make sure you stay relevant in a way that is unique and sexy. Because the easiest thing to happen when you blend in is that you become irrelevant. And especially watch out for work-life balance when there are major life changes – marriage, divorce, pregnancy, empty nest.

Here are the few things I noticed in my roughly 20 years of working at various jobs:

  1. Bosses who display smiley happy family photos always flirt with you.
  2. If a boss doesn’t want to go home, he/she often resents that you want to.
  3. When you gossip in the office loo, someone behind the door is always listening.
  4. Smoke breaks (even if you don’t smoke) are the best places for gossip because of the poor acoustics.
  5. Try and avoid sleeping with your boss if the job is important to you.
  6. If your organization is not open to conversations about feminism, it’s time to move.
  7. There is always someone sleeping with someone. Let it not be your problem.
  8. Never trust what anyone says to you at work. The real dope is in your KRA forms.
  9. Speaking your mind is not always conducive to a work space.
  10. If you spend a great deal of your office hours wondering when you will go home, or a great deal of your home hours wondering when you will go to work, there is something wrong either at office or at home.
  11. Leaving before your boss is still considered politically incorrect in some places.
  12. Do great work. Someone will notice. That someone could poach you for the next big thing.

Excerpted from “The Whole Shebang: Sticky Bits of Being a Woman” by Lalita Iyer with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing India.

Also Read: Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire Raises Questions on Identity and Class System

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