In Mumbai this weekend, my eye was caught by the headline on the front page of Sunday’s Economic Times - ‘At 45 – over with the rat race’ – going on to say ‘As salaries hit a high, career graphs peak faster and burnout becomes real, more execs are considering early retirement and planning towards it’. Indian executives have experienced a boom in their salaries with annual increments in the 15% to 20% bracket – so they are feeling wealthier – and working harder. The article also quotes a whole swath of executives saying ‘many people feel they are missing out on their families’ and ‘unlike earlier, when people switch off from work, today we are working much longer hours’
Sounds familiar to those of us work in the west? Across the world, those who have joined the global talent pool – like these executives in India, are feeling the pinch of globalisation – 24/7 work, constantly on-line, and always striving to keep their place in the global talent pool.
It was not always like this. The workplace that dominated most of the twentieth century allowed producers and sellers a fairly relaxed existence. Thinking back to my first real job – as a psychologist for British Airways, much of the world was broken into relatively stable markets. BA had a near monopoly on the UK travelling passenger, and if the company did not make its predicted revenue, the UK Government, as the owner of the airline was there to bail it out. I recall getting into the office at 9.00, taking a one-hour break in the staff canteen on the other side of the airport, and then leaving my desk at 5.30 for a leisurely trip home. No work was expected at the weekend, the holidays were good, and of course I had the pleasure of deeply discounted travel perks- Oh and did I tell you about the BA pension scheme?
Economies of scale and stable markets (often supported by monopolies, oligopolies and regulations) protected large companies like BA from competition. If you worked for a smaller company, then you only competed with other local services and industries. The focus of these companies was on the production of goods and services at a reasonable price and in a form that consumers would not reject out of hand. Research and development departments did exist, but they tended to change around the margin, and costs could be planned for, thanks to unions negotiating wage rates for entire industries. That model held for much of the world until about a decade ago where first employees in the private sector and increasingly those in the public sector felt the cold winds of global competition.
So, it is no surprise that those in the global talent pool in Mumbai are now feeling as ‘burnt out’ as those in New York or London. Whilst being a member of the global talent pool has enormous financial advantages – it does come at a cost. And as I mentioned in an earlier blog ‘Are the kids alright’ – it’s the youngest members of the global talent pool who are probably feeling the pressure most.
So, what’s the solution? The Economic Times sees the solution in early retirement – citing between 50 – 55 as the age when those in the global talent pool will hit the buffers. I’d say ‘dream on’. It’s the old fashioned view that work is like a cliff that you climb until you are 55, and then jump off. It’s simply not going to happen. Those in the Indian global talent pool may feel financially secure right now with rapidly rising property prices, bank savings rates of 9%, and a booming equity market. But as the western Baby Boomers have found – it only takes a couple of economic crises and a bust in the property markets to wipe out the growth – and by the way – when you are living to 90….. It’s not surprise that this week the UK Government passed legislation banning forced retirement at 65.
The solution is not jumping off the cliff – it’s understanding that working life is a marathon not a sprint, and that building time to relax and re-charge within a longer working period is more important than simply stopping earlier. That’s going to put a premium on flexible working, job share and sabbaticals –and the companies that get this first will have their pick of the global talent pool.