Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The invisible hazard

A distant cousin brother, but very dear friend of mine died recently. It wasn’t a road accident or a suicide. The death was due to drowning, but he was dead a long time before he drowned in that lake.

Manoj was one of the sweetest guys I have come across, simple, innocent and simply “nice”. His family is perhaps one of the sweetest collections of people I know. His Dad a leading businessman in Singapore and his mom a simple and a unassuming woman from my moms hometown. Their house is a happy place with none of the trappings of the ultra rich. The parents remained ordinary middle class folks inspite of my Uncles immense success in business. The children, all 8 of them are down to earth simple girls and boys, who perhaps are not even aware that they are rich. They are one of those families who don’t seem to be affected by money.

Manoj the eldest son, was a brilliant student who went on a scholarship to one of those Ivy League schools. He finished top of the batch and was soon selected into one of the leading companies in New York. The first year of work was hectic and the stress immense. Soon the stress affected his brain making him behave irrationally from time to time. The doctors diagnosed the condition as a stress related disorder. Apparently it is not so uncommon in todays high stress working environments. There was no cure though the behaviour could be managed by medication. But Manoj was disabled for life. Though he looked and behaved like a normal human being and recognised all of us and seemed perfectly alright, he was prone to walk off from home and forget his whereabouts. His parents bought him back to Bangalore and he was admitted to an institution run by the Jesuits on the outskirts of Bangalore for such rare cases. One day he walked out of the institution, slipped on the banks of a lake and drowned.

What we learnt during his illness was that the high stress life that we are leading these days can make anyone of us a victim of this eventuality. It may be not so serious as in Manoj’s case, but damage due to a high stress life is insidious and silent. It may end up as something else altogether like forgetfulness, infertility etc and may never be identified as a fallout of stress.

Simply was made to till the soil and reap the harvest and be content with it and not meet tight deadlines and targets. And what is worse, no company will compensate you if you fall victim to job related stress disorder. It is not even recognised as a workplace hazard and till it is recognised as a workplace hazard you and me will live in constant danger of becoming victims.


Ajith said...

hmmm..sad.. Sometimes even I get a feeling that if it is really worthwile to slog it out for a few bucks more or go home and lead a happy life with a normal job in Kerala.. But perhaps, this is the life's eternal puzzle.. Some may fail, and we could be one among them too :(..

No matter what compensation the company pays,the individual in question would have lost out on his greatest asset -- his LIFE :(

Neihal said...

this is awful :(
very sorry for your loss.
I have seen someone very close to me struggle depression, it was the most difficult thing I have had to face as well, as family it is painful and frustating.

Jay Sun said...

very sad...

and yes...without an adequate work - life balance...we are all at risk...for too many people, work-life is one word...

Anonymous said...

Don't know what to say. This is very startling for me. But really, people leading highly stressful life should take care and find time for inner peace, to be with family and friends and enjoy other aspects of life. I know, it is easier to say then do...but these kinds of startling news does make one wonder.


Alexis said...

Very sad....My condolences...I have a friend who have lost his mind after working in a high-stress environment. What you said is very true "...he was dead a long time before he drowned..."

May be we should set our priorities clear and put a stop when something starts affects our happiness and peace of minds. But too difficult a thing to do in this materialistic world...

Anonymous said...

I havent heard of such things..getting permanently disabled for life ffrom stress!!can you please name this awful malaise

alex said...

What you said in the last paragraph is so true. People need to take notice. Because lives are valuable.

mathew said...

exactly..i always try to convince my friends who slog like hell that life is not all about apprisals..salary hikes..promotions..

sad that people have different priorities..and ultimately lose out on those little moments that make 'living' a pleasure!!

many forget that for companies you are just another replacable battery that can be thrown away!!

may his soul RIP..and wish his parents get over with the tragedy.

Prashant Kaushal said...

With competition increasing, the level of competitiveness is increasing, and it is definitely taking its toll. Phrases like - Right Work Life Balance - seem to have lost somewhere... Hope that we, the present generation, dont buckle under this mammoth pressure to live up with and live up to this burning desire to be on the top...

naan said...

Very sad..

Completely agree with what you said. The effects of stress might not always so drastic and visible. Look around you and you'll not be surprised to find young 20 somethings with greyed hair, coughing and surviving on inhalers.

Probably the long term effects of these will be more visible in the years to come. And yes its high time that stress is treated as a occupational hazard

Anoop G said...

very sad to hear the story.

Sachin R K said...

Stress - the Silent Killer.

Abhishek said...

I am working in a high stress environment... As I write this to you, my PM (Project manager) is sitting 6 feet away from my desk and looking at me expecting a deliverable which humanly cant be done in the timeline she suggested...
I cant protest as my company is getting lot of billing (in UK GBP) per hour, simply for me sweating out on this seat 14 hours day ..(Of course the official timings are just 8 hours...but when Indian software people work on site, its a given, client delight that they will work over time without pay. I am way in a cold cold country... I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to catch a bus at 6:15 and then work like a robot till 8 in the night... why? I dont know...

pophabhi said...

"he was dead a long time before he drowned". Cannot be more direct.
Silver - At least some people may change their habits by seeing this post. As Mathew told, its not work thats life. There is much more to it. Lets try to live every moment than think about ovations in work alone!
Condolences to the nice brother.

silverine said...

Ajith: I think one must just not takes ones job too seriously and overwork etc.

neihal: yes, it's awful escpecially for his parents :(

jaysun: Well said. I am beginning to realise that terms like 'work-life' balance should be given a good hard relook.

kajan: Jobs are so aligned that one has to work hard to keep it and work harder to make it a success.

Alex: Ultimately it is we the employees who have to see that we dont overtsretch and harm ourselves.

Mathew" You are right, companies are here for profits and only till you are useful will they keep you. And while you are slogging to rise to the top you should not stop living. Where I work, we are hounded out at 6 pm. No one is allowed to work long hours or come on weekends :)

Prashanth: I think it is the western concept of working of yore,which they have long discarded but companies practice it here in India since we are desperate for jobs.

Naan: I hope it will be recognised as a work hazard soon.

Anoop: Sad reality!

Sachin: It is!!

Abhishek: Wow that is a deadly schedule and I think we Indians are over stretching too much to show the world that we have arrived. Please ease up :)

silverine said...

pophabhi: You are right, work is not the only thing in life. There is so much more to live for and youth is but fleeting.

G said...

I hear ya, I hear ya! I work for a large event management company, stress is our middle name.

I have seen horror stories unfold in the name of stress.

In the end, however, whenever I feel I can't handle things, I switch my phone off and take a break. Sometimes even an hour or two helps. Which is what I tell all my colleagues and friends - take a break whenever you want. Ot might piss your boss off, but it will keep him happier than when you have to stop going to work because of nervous breakdown.

'nuff said!

Jeseem said...

companies have started becoming worried about the stress scenarios for their employees and in the coming years, this awareness will increase. Lot of companies do have their employees to stress control and relaxation trainings.

also as employees, we have to learn to control our stress environment and learn to refuse unnecessary stress conditions ( Indians are so bad at this). Suffice to say, one shouldn't live to work, but work to live

silverine said...

G: Absolutely empathise with you as I work extensively with event managment people. And this makes "stress" my middle name too :)) Unfortunately they can switch off the phone, I can't :p

Jeseem: My company is one one is allowed to work beyond 6pm or on weekends. I hope other companies follow suit.

Nariyal Chutney said...

Sad :( , My condolences...

Life, always I thought was a marathon that should be run very patiently so that you can enjoy it to the fullest when you reach the finishing line .It is sad to see so many people in our generation running the marathon like a 100 m race.Sometimes I feel work/anything becomes stressful when we does not enjoy what we do and take our decisions by what others say / what society percieve. Life would have been so smooth . easy and non stressful if we had taken our decisions based on what we wanted to do insteadof what others want us to do , Is it ?

Praveen said...

This is really sad and am sorry to hear this. I guess a stress free life is what everybody craves for and a good work-life balance....

flaashgordon said...

especially here in Japan , there is even a word for death due to overwork (as i'd mentioned in my blog) Karoshi. It leads to high suicide rates, low birthrates, and burnouts. Guess we might see more victims of this even in india as india progresses and people work real hard to earn more ..

Really sad abt ur relative

Krishnan said...


Sorry for the loss and time you had gone through. Reading this blog I thought I will send you something that I received as a mail today. That shows how mistaken we are and how much misled we are.

An interesting reflection. : Slow Down Culture

It's been 18 years since I joined Volvo, a Swedish company. Working for them has proven to be an interesting experience. Any project here takes 2 years to be finalized, even if the idea is simple and brilliant. It's a rule.

Globalize processes have caused in us (all over the world) a general sense of searching for immediate results. Therefore, we have come to posses a need to see immediate results. This contrasts greatly with the slow movements of the Swedish. They, on the other hand, debate, debate, debate, hold x quantity of meetings and work with a slowdown scheme. At the end, this always yields better results.

Said in another words:
1. Sweden is about the size of San Pablo , a state in Brazil .
2. Sweden has 2 million inhabitants.
3. Stockholm , has 500,000 people.
4. Volvo, Escania, Ericsson, Electrolux, Nokia are some of its renowned companies. Volvo supplies the NASA.

The first time I was in Sweden , one of my colleagues picked me up at the hotel every morning. It was September, bit cold and snowy. We would arrive early at the company and he would park far away from the entrance (2000 employees drive their car to work). The first day, I didn't say anything, either the second or third. One morning I asked, "Do you have a fixed parking space? I've noticed we park far from the entrance even when there are no other cars in the lot." To which he replied, "Since we're here early we'll have time to walk, and whoever gets in late will be late and need a place closer to the door. Don't you think? Imagine my face.

Nowadays, there's a movement in Europe name Slow Food. This movement establishes that people should eat and drink slowly, with enough time to taste their food, spend time with the family, friends, without rushing. Slow Food is against its counterpart: the spirit of Fast Food and what it stands for as a lifestyle. Slow Food is the basis for a bigger movement called Slow Europe, as mentioned by Business Week.

Basically, the movement questions the sense of "hurry" and "craziness" generated by globalization, fueled by the desire of "having in quantity" (life status) versus "having with quality", "life quality" or the "quality of being". French people, even though they work 35 hours per week, are more productive than Americans or British. Germans have established 28.8 hour workweeks and have seen their productivity been driven up by 20%. This slow attitude has brought forth the US 's attention, pupils of the fast and the "do it now!".

This no-rush attitude doesn't represent doing less or having a lower productivity. It means working and doing things with greater quality, productivity, perfection, with attention to detail and less stress. It means reestablishing family values, friends, free and leisure time. Taking the "now", present and concrete, versus the "global", undefined and anonymous. It means taking humans' essential values, the simplicity of living.

It stands for a less coercive work environment, more happy, lighter and more productive where humans enjoy doing what they know best how to do. It's time to stop and think on how companies need to develop serious quality with no-rush that will increase productivity and the quality of products and services, without losing the essence of spirit.

In the movie, Scent of a Woman, there's a scene where Al Pacino asks a girl to dance and she replies, "I can't, my boyfriend will be here any minute now". To which Al responds, "A life is lived in an instant". Then they dance to a tango.

Many of us live our lives running behind time, but we only reach it when we die of a heart attack or in a car accident rushing to be on time. Others are so anxious of living the future that they forget to live the present, which is the only time that truly exists. We all have equal time throughout the world. No one has more or less. The difference lies in how each one of us does with our time. We need to live each moment. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans".

Congratulations for reading till the end of this message. There are many who will have stopped in the middle so as not to waste time in this globalize world.

NB:This is the first time i am reading a blog. What I have written above is not a comment but more of a personal mail to you to convey my condolences.

I got to your site through another blog. I dont own any blogs and dont like much to read any of those (May be I am still ignorant about these).

Just got interested in your blog after I read that you are SINGLE :)
(Sorry...Kidding....I liked some of your comments and points, thats why).

silverine said...

NC: We are suddenly flush with jobs and the good prospects and hence the rush to overwork and over achieve.

Praveen: The word "work life balance" itself must under stress now due to over use :))

flaash: Thats news, I thought the Japs liked to work!! I guess we are headed that way soon.

krishnan: That was really sweet of you to put that here in the comments section. I read it till the end. Very interesting!!

Ganja Turtle said... u got me thinking...that one line was the "sharp implement" that you never knew you used - "he was dead a long time before he drowned".

silverine said...

GT: Thank you, nice to see you back!!!

Ravi said...

I am in IT and like you and Alexis a cancerian. I had slip disc and could barely walk and quit my job in B'lore. I was able to walk again after 4-5 months. Then, I had carpel tunnel symptoms which got cured after I changed my job. Work related stress especially in IT industry is high. We have become Robots who are replaced when wear and tear and obsolescence break us down.
Good Post and I wish I had met Manoj.