Beta, Aap kya karte ho? (What do you do in life?), a distant uncle asked me at a wedding, whom I was meeting probably the second time in my life. Truth be told, I told him I am on a break in my career. To which he replied, “Why, what happened?” I said, “I wanted a break for my mental peace, for my personal life.” I got a surprised and pitiful, “oh okay!” and the verbal conversation ended. But, uncle’s nonverbal cues communicated to me, “How could you take a break at this age? What are your plans for the future?”
It made me wonder, should I be happy that a section of the society has started to react surprisingly if a working age woman is not working; or should I just let it be because questions around work could just be conversation starters or should I be angry that “how are you” has been replaced with “what work do you do” or should I ponder that would the uncle be okay if I had taken that break for marriage or child-birth because society has normalized it at the cost of woman’s career. Perhaps at this juncture I should clarify that, the article deals only with the bias people face when they choose to take a break for their mental and emotional well-being, though I am completely against the employer bias that married women or mothers face when they want to rejoin the workforce owing to existing social stereotypes.
Today, break at work is seen how opting for arts stream used to be till about couple of decades ago. Work has taken over the entire identity of an individual; it has come to define the person. The problem with this approach is a discussion for another day. However, despite this fact, little attention is given to mental health of workers. Unfortunately, in this fast paced, work focused urban life, why is mental health of workers not a priority? Why work/life balance is not imperative to any sector of work? Why early career professionals are lectured about, “oh you are young women and men, you are capable of working so much more”; as if young professionals do not have a personal life. Why can’t workers simply take a break from work and why during the break, someone has to constantly think of what can be professionally done which can camouflage this ‘break’ on the CV and on LinkedIn. Why potential employers question your commitment to career if you honestly tell them that, “I needed a break for myself; personally, break between job switch helps me feel rejuvenated and refreshed for the next job.”
Recent survey has pointed out that in India; work is one of the leading causes of stress amongst youth aged 18-34 years, with 9 in 10 working youth suffering from stress. Isn’t the social, economic and peer pressure of better brand of job, higher salary, promotions, being on the list of achievers under 35 or 40 years driving us into a mad rat race? In the end, if it is a personal choice and if these are truly an individual’s aspirations then there is no debate because passion displaces pressure in that case. However, if it is a societal expectation (family, friends, partner, and employer) then, it is good to pause and reflect about what you want from your life? When you retire or when you reach old age and think about your life, how you would want to think about it? When you die (well, that’s the biggest truth of mortal life), what you want to be remembered as?
Pic: The board is blank so that you choose the way you want to paint it, beyond work! Source: Pexels
There is no golden rule about a universal path to career development or work life. Instead of standardizing the pathways towards a healthy and growing work life, it is imperative to let individuals choose their course of action and respect their decisions. If an individual wants to live a life in a different way, focus on her/his mental and emotional wellness, or wants to take a break to pursue a hobby, or travel, or develop a different skill, she/he should not be treated as a black sheep. Perhaps the candidate did take the road less travelled by, but if she/he is capable and committed to the job being offered, break bias should not be the reason for not hiring the candidate. It is high time the society as a whole (employers are also part of the same society!) starts valuing mental health as much as physical health.