As lockdown season drones on, we’ve begun to appreciate the little things—like baking (whether it’s sourdough bread or yourself), discovering the redundancy of wearing a bra, and waking up five minutes before a scheduled meeting. Unfortunately, while working from home may conveniently cut down on travel time and costs, it comes with way more consequences than glitchy Zoom calls. Not having a biometric system to clock in has made working hours an elusive construct. It’s also made some bosses incredibly insecure since they can no longer breathe down their team’s necks.
Unlike the locust swarms taking over some countries though, horrible bosses aren’t an entity that were lying low and have suddenly decided to show up just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse. They’ve been around for ages, slowly squeezing you out of all your patience and productivity. Bitching about them with your colleagues may have worked in the pre-coronavirus period when huddling over coffee or lunch was a thing. But right now, managing increased stress levels with your work schedule as well as all the domestic duties thrust upon you, may make you feel burnt out real quick. So what do you do when you’re underpaid, overworked but also really afraid to address the issue given the pandemic has created massive job losses as well? We asked some experts to help tailor a guide.
Approach them honestly, but respectfully
It’s easy for any boss to get caught up in targets and deliverables, but the best way to remind them you’re not a robot is by taking baby steps. While venting to your colleagues could be cathartic, it’s not likely that to impact change. And especially if many of your work wives/husbands are also feeling the sudden strain, it’s important to immediately take it up with your team head.
“Communication is key to connection, which leads to transformation of the situation and your feelings,” says Arushi Sethi, a mental health activist and co-founder of Trijog, a Mumbai-based mental health care and wellness centre. Sethi explains that the best way to bring up the fact that you’re feeling overworked is to call up your immediate superior. “The key is to be realistic but not rude,” she stresses. “ Be honest, but not demanding. Articulate your concerns about the feelings that are getting generated because of you being overworked and pinpoint how it’s affecting your performance.” Sethi says that the best way to go about this is by using kind words, but standing your ground without letting anyone walk all over you. “It’s all about how you approach them. Say things like ‘this makes me feel like I’m being inefficient or not able to maximise my competency’ instead of just ‘I’m not interested in doing this’. Ask nicely if there can be a reduction in the amount of work or a shift in the kind of work, but also listen to what they have to say with an open mind.”
If they don’t address the issue, escalate it via email
But even if your bosses grunt and claim to understand what you’re going through, the outcome can probably remain unfulfilled. If that’s the case, the ideal move to make would be to shift the medium of communication to a more formal platform, like email.
“I’ve worked with clients who complain about how their bosses promise to reduce their workload, but don’t end up doing it,” admits Jasdeep Mago, a neuropsychologist and co-founder of mental health organisation and community Invisible Illness. Mago points out that at such times, it’s important to have some kind of proof to back your statements. “Start an email thread so you have a trail of evidence,” she suggests, adding that you could mark other employees who feel the same way (after getting their permission, of course) so you stress the seriousness of the situation. “Your last option is to take it up with the HR, but that’s always a risk since they usually deal with administrative responsibilities and could potentially make the situation worse by making your boss feel you are overstepping their authority.”
Ultimately, if you don’t want all hopes dashed, it’s all on you. “Give alternatives and suggestions and hint at the solution or approach you’re looking at,” says Sethi. “Don’t suggest it as a demand, but frame it as an outcome of the stress you are feeling in the current situation.”
Develop an hourly update system
One of the tactics to establish a relationship of trust with your boss is to put in place a system that lets them keep tabs on you without needing them to be physically present. To do this, Sethi recommends a digital update system that works like a diary.
“The most important factor of working from home is building trust,” she tells us. “Suggest to your boss that they create a digital system of reporting, tracking and monitoring, like a digital diary.” Sethi explains how this sort of mechanism can be filled in with details of hourly updates to aid the scheduling process as long as the working day is capped at a time suitable for everyone involved. “This can bring ownership and responsibility on both ends, but it also becomes the responsibility of your boss to follow up on making their employees feel motivated by constantly reviewing the digital system.”
Sethi also says that in cases where people’s work timings are erratic because they depend on when the clients they work with respond, the thinking should shift away from rigid schedules. “If you’re working with a client who piles you with work on weekends, but will give you some free time on a weekday, you need to accept that and be more flexible. Designate a day of rest for yourself, even if it’s a Thursday instead of a Friday.”
Request your boss to do weekly check-ins
While creating a digital diary of hourly updates is one way to go, Mago points out how it can sometimes also make employees inefficient since they can lie about what they’re doing while also increasing their workload with an added responsibility. Instead, she suggests that young professionals should encourage their team leaders to hold regular check-ins to monitor motivation levels.
“Establishing human connection is most important at this time, and it’s the responsibility of the leader to find out how their team members are doing.” She stresses that the best fix for the problem at hand is to urge your boss to have one-to-one dialogues with individual employees, or break down the bigger team into smaller units that can check up on each other. “This should be done weekly or twice a week as it’s an important step in making employees feel cared for. Nobody wants to bring up their grievances, even if it’s anonymous, as they feel something won’t be done about it. So it’s up to the leader to check in and gauge how everyone is doing on a regular basis. And if your boss isn’t doing this, then feel free to suggest it to them.”
Introspect your priorities
Of course, even with all the explaining and encouragement, you’ll still find those selfish, egotistic authority figures who simply refuse to understand your plight. They may dismiss it by accusing you of not working hard enough and sometimes even threaten you with the looming fear of being fired. In a more normal world, this is probably when you’d hand in that resignation letter. But as the coronavirus and its lockdowns leave people with less job security than ever before, now is probably not the time to negotiate.
At such times, Mago recommends weighing your options instead of shying away from what has unfortunately become the inevitable. “Ask yourself: Does this job suit my needs? Can I explore freelance options? Would it be feasible to leave this job at this time?” She stresses that while it’s good to be an eternal optimist, now is not the time to run away from your problems under the guise of optimism, and evaluate what you see yourself doing three to five years from now instead. “Productivity and mental health are interlinked. You won’t be able to function well at your workplace if you push your limits beyond what you can take.”
Mago stands by acknowledging that while everybody in a working environment may be dispensable, it’s more a result of the prevailing pandemic situation that is affecting everyone over any individual incompetencies. Meanwhile, Sethi’s approach urges people to inculcate a perspective shift.
“It’s very important to understand the ‘circle of control’ vs the ‘circle of concern’,” Sethi stresses. She explains that while the ‘circle of concern’ involves all the intangible aspects that we have no say or authority over such as the economy, the pandemic situation, and the rising unemployment, the ‘circle of control’ includes our thoughts, actions, motivations, food intake, sleep cycle, exercise routines, and time dedicated to self-care. “When you look at the situation from the ‘circle of concern’, it induces uncertainty, and you start to view it as threatening, which leads to an increase in anxiety. But if you shift your outlook to the ‘circle of control’ and examine what you can do in this moment with the options available within your ambit, it can help you be the best version of yourself.”
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