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Editorial: Cubicle dweller down in dumps

The discrepancy could be due to the fact that surveys commissioned by corporate entities tend to study worker satisfaction as a way to finding nips and tucks that can lead to more productivity rather than real insights to make him or her happy per se.

Editorial: Cubicle dweller down in dumps
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It should surprise no one that the average Indian employee is least happy at his workplace, where he spends more than a third of his day. Even then, the findings of the 2024 State of the Global Workplace survey by Gallup make for depressing reading. Only 14 per cent of Indian workers feel they are ‘thriving’, the survey found, far below the global average of 34%. The miserable picture becomes clearer when you flip that fact around: 86 per cent of them are either ‘struggling’ or ‘suffering’.

This overwhelming proportion of employees reported either having an uncertain or negative view of their present situation with daily stress and financial worries or feeling a deficit of food and shelter with attendant stress, worry, sadness and anger. Workers in the ‘suffering’ category have less access to health insurance and carry more than double the disease burden borne by those in the ‘thriving’ category.

About 35% of the survey respondents from India admitted feeling angry at work, and 31 per cent reported experiencing deteriorating mental health, including anxiety and depression. Nearly half of the respondents reported a lack of engagement in their work, feeling no commitment and motivation towards their assigned role. Gallup’s findings reinforce what we know anecdotally or experientially, but are at variance with employee satisfaction surveys commissioned by corporate entities, which tend to paint altogether rosier picture.

According to one report published by Indeed, the global hiring platform, 70 per cent of Indian employees reported feeling happy and content at work. Some HR consultancies go further. The 2023 Workforce Insights Report by Persol Kelly names India among “leaders in work-life satisfaction” such as Vietnam and Indonesia with a worker satisfaction rate of 86%. Another consultancy, iSS placed India in the lead on employee satisfaction and retention, with 86% of employees experiencing a 'strong sense of belongingness' with their current work situation.

You need only to ask the straphanger next to you on the daily commute to know that this is far from the truth, if not an outright lie produced by rose-tinted surveys with small samples. The discrepancy could be due to the fact that surveys commissioned by corporate entities tend to study worker satisfaction as a way to finding nips and tucks that can lead to more productivity rather than real insights to make him or her happy per se.

Even then, research on any aspect of worker well-being is welcome as it remains a very under-researched topic in India. Multiple dimensions of it—political, socioeconomic, psychological—need to be refreshed in our policy consciousness. There is need for instance to understand the impact of work-from-home on marriage, individual loneliness, child psychology and social relations. Internationally, we have startling findings from recent research on job loss: Being laid off is now rated as the seventh most stressful life event, more stressful than divorce. It’s said that psychological trauma of job loss takes two years on average to recover from.

The blindsiding of worker issues is a consequence of the decline of the Left and the unfortunate preoccupation of politics with identities. This has led to worker welfare being elbowed out of our public affairs agenda, leaving the field open to neoliberal ideas of work. It’s time to restore the worker to the nation’s agenda.

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