No holiday cheer, only stress and overwork are the Indian banker’s wages

Every workday of my husband’s lasts almost as long as the full work week of a Swede.
No holiday cheer, only stress and overwork are the Indian banker’s wages
No holiday cheer, only stress and overwork are the Indian banker’s wages
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By A Banker’s Wife

I am a working woman in Chennai balancing a comparatively easy career, domestic responsibilities, teenage tantrums and some basic community responsibilities. My husband is an honest and smart banker who came up the ranks to the level of middle management with fairly consistent promotions in one of the largest private sector banks in India.

He is a great husband and an even better dad. And our lives have been good and we are fairly well off, thanks to his present job and its many increments and bonuses. When he started this job, my husband was very passionate about it, had grand plans for it, and was excited by each professional achievement whether recognised for it or not. We used to discuss his work a lot back at home too.

Over the last two years, however, not a week goes by without him saying, “How I wish I could put in my papers today!” There are calls to attend on weekends and after 9pm or 10pm. There is no sanctity of private time. Meanwhile, the whole day at the office goes in meetings, which are most often exercises to put down another unit, defend yours for inane reasons, underplay inefficiencies of a boss or a peer, and overplay the efficiencies to ensure a well-deserved promotion before it falls victim to bell curves.

We were at a bereaved friend’s house when the news of demonetisation came as a harmless looking WhatsApp forward, and my banker husband immediately dismissed it as another hoax. Then more credible information and news flashes started coming in, and on our way back home we were flush with a sense of euphoria like most other tax-paying, middle class Indians. The reality of it started reflecting in our lives much later.

But this is not a piece about the ills or benefits of demonetisation, because I am still unsure how to feel about its effectiveness, like most of my peer group. Soon after, another bolt from the blue came in our CM’s passing away and the cyclone. But the show must go on, and banks must handle massive volumes even on a day when your car flies like Harry Potter’s. So bankers work manic hours to catch up on the volumes, and over-stress themselves to manage the backlog created by holidays that they had no part in declaring or making.

Why this display of collective spinelessness to stand up and talk about their side of the story?

Because there are promotions, bonuses, ESOP’s, medical reimbursements, subsidised loans, Europe trips with the full board to be had. The carrots dangled are as numerous as the entire season’s crop from Ooty. People are forced to work because they have to show solidarity to their teams and get work extracted, and teams work because the boss has the capacity to ruin ratings and thereby delay employee dreams of upgrading from an i10 to a Verna by another year. So, unless you hit a lottery or get bit by the austerity bug that makes you want a life of peace and calm in Himalayas, all you can do is grit your teeth and buckle down.

The spines of HR departments across banks are also being trimmed to bonsai sizes with every passing year. This is the sentiment of not just my husband, but a number of others I’ve met from banks across cities. When people quit for better prospects or out of sheer disillusionment, replacements are not hired so the bosses can show that they’ve cut costs. No cross-vertical movements happen because that inflates your cost centre expenses. So finally, the amount of work doubles, triples and quadruples, and once in a while an expendable employee of the bank experiences mild chest pain in his seat, is taken to the nearest hospital and declared brought dead. But, of course, the PF balances can help the family stay afloat through the son’s college education.

My husband, who is a fitness enthusiast, works 14 hours on the trot now. Every workday of his lasts almost as long as a full work week of a Swede. He doesn’t do anything except eat at ungodly hours, wake up from too little sleep, bathe, shave and get back to work. He doesn’t work out or see natural light anymore.

The guilt of lost weekends, festivals, and birthdays are all taken care of by well-packed Amazon shopping carts. Yesterday he said he can get a 40% discount at a premiere sports store if he shows his employee ID card. We hardly need the products or the discount now.

I just wish the bank would extend his discounts to cover free medical checkups and legal firms specialising in divorce. In 2017, a lot of bankers will need this. But can you blame the Mrs Kochars, Mr Puris or Mr Ranas for all this? Not really. They have their golfing handicaps to take care of and ‘Best Performing Banks’ award functions to attend.

Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to overcome greed and learn to live a simple life. 

Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.

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