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New face of corporate Pakistan

July 05 - 11,1999

Leadership 2000
For the record
Hamdard University
New face of corporate Pakistan

Increased workload for no extra benefit

By Robin Fernandez

Office hours are not what they used to be in Pakistan. Corporate culture, cited by some experts as one of the key factors in determining a so-called 'New Work Order', has jolted many lumbering organizations and scores of work-shy individuals into frenzied activity.

Split-shift workers are becoming more common. Even those whose work schedule is not stretched beyond two or more unequal parts, tend to work for longer hours than usual. Whatever happened to the conventional nine-to-five hours that most salarymen kept until the early '90s? Is this the new face of corporate Pakistan? Or does it mean that we have evolved a work ethic to match our national ambition of becoming an Asian Tiger? Whatever the reasons are, it appears that out-of-hours work is here to stay.

Some 15 months ago, W.F., a successful banker, was transferred from his plush office at the bank's headquarters to the outdoors where he could handle slightly more mundane matters like making sure that recreational centers were built on time and visiting international bankers were comfortably checked into their hotels. W.F. does not seem to mind the fact that he has to work a few hours on Sundays as well.

J.A., a 34-year-old senior executive at a textile manufacturing firm, has a 10-hour workday. On most days, he brings home part of his work and sits down to compile lengthy reports while burning the midnight oil. Still J.A., like most people of his age, is more than content with his job. This, of course, does not mean that everyone is warming up to the latest working habits. There are unconfirmed reports of some employees in different sectors adopting well-disguised work-to-rule practices, but without much success. In fact, the practice of refusing to do extra work is becoming outdated.

If independent economists are to be believed, today's employees will be left out in the cold if they do not work longer hours, as proposed by business corporations and offices.

Although it is said that men are doing the bulk of out-of-hours work, women are not lagging far behind. They are taking up the challenge and breaking off their nine-to-five schedules, many of them at least twice a week. From women in management positions to those working in customer services jobs, there is an over-riding desire on their part to achieve career goals and meet high job demands. Until now, or so it seemed, a majority of women did not recognize that their parent lack of flexibility in working hours had, in fact, slowed down their chances of promotion up the corporate ladder.

A.A., an executive secretary, who works for the director general of a leading firm, follows a strict 12-hour shift that begins as early as 8:30 a.m. every day, except on Saturdays. A.A. puts down her longer working hours to the heavy workload that is placed upon her shoulders. The extra time spent on the job allows her to finish the work allotted her. And she is unwilling to quit her job simply for the sake of more agreeable working hours. These days legions of salarymen have similar feelings about their workplaces. They have eagerly accepted the New Work Order into their lifestyles, for it has given them a sense of direction in today's rat race. But the question on everybody's mind is: Have workloads really been increased? Although figures are scarce and business executives prefer to remain silent on this subject, it is abundantly clear that there has been a substantial increase in overall workload over the past decade or so. But, again, it is another matter that the workloads were probably shared unequally between different categories of workers.

In realistic terms, one would expect increased workload to translate into better salaries for all workers. One can understand the shock of a newly-hired office assistant, S.F., who was told by his boss to stay in late every day. His shock was exacerbated when he looked at his pay cheque at the end of the first month and discovered he was not paid overtime. Such bitter lessons are learnt each day by new entrants into the workforce. However, more and more private firms are screening out employees for their willingness, or unwillingness as it may be, to perform split-shift duties. At the outset, they make it clear to job aspirants that out-of-hours work is very much on the cards. It is gratifying to know that the average Pakistani worker in the private sector has responded well to the daily grind — in much the same way as an employee in any ASEAN member-state.