You are here: Home » Opinion » Columns
Business Standard

Shyamal Majumdar: Stop sweating the small stuff


Shyamal Majumdar  |  Mumbai 

Workaholic CEOs find their job appealing, but their subordinates find that appalling.
State Bank of India Chairman O P Bhatt doesn't remember when he last took a vacation, and weekends mean taking home at least two suitcases of files. Larsen & Toubro Chairman A M Naik, 65, has been working almost 18 hours a day for over 30 years now and has been ignoring his children's advice of taking it easy.
Former ONGC Chairman Subir Raha used to answer his official emails from 1 to 2 am as there was no time for this during the normal office hours. And Cairn India CEO Rahul Dhir has taken membership of at least three gyms in Delhi so that at least one of them is within reach, whenever he has some time to work out.
India is fast catching up with the growing trend of super-busy CEOs who are forgetting to turn off their Blackberrys. For example, GE's chief executive Jeff Immelt said recently he has been working 100 hours a week for the last 20 years. Fortune ran an article about Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony, who was quoted as saying at a company meeting. "I don't see my family much. My family is you." A reader wrote back saying, "My gosh, if your boss is referring to you as his family, run!"
The gentlemen mentioned above have at least taken their organisation to greater heights but there are countless other bosses who drive their juniors mad by their inability to turn it off. Such people, who have their desks stacked high with projects, always working and constantly sweating the small details, are plain workaholics.
These people enjoy their job so much that they just work, and work, and work. They find that appealing; but their subordinates mostly find that appalling. Psychologists refer to them as people with an obsessive compulsive disorder. But long hours alone do not make a person workaholic. It's got to do more with his inability to let go and who constantly thinks and talks about work "" whether he is at home or on the ski slopes.
These CEOs have boundless energy and expect their people to have the same. They also want to be the best on too many parameters: cost, quality, product innovation "" everything. But this is simply wrong. Most of them suffer from the indispensability syndrome (nothing will move if I am not there) and are addicted to the adrenaline high that accompanies the job.
That leads to micro-managing subordinates who then leave out of sheer frustration. These CEOs need to understand that we can ask our people to give 110 per cent occasionally but not every day, and long working hours and excessive mental demands are tightly braided together and can spell disaster.
One middle-management executive says his boss would always call him on his office landline late in the evening just to check whether he was still around in office. Or, even if he was called on his mobile, the first question invariably was "where are you?" The question itself shows that the boss wants to figure out whether he is still working or is at home.
The end result is that the middle management is perennially hollow in that organisation. Which is an irony as the middle management is the backbone of any organisation. It not only runs its area of responsibility but also works as a group to integrate all parts of the organisation. They are the actual problem solvers who roll up their sleeves and get the work done.
While trying to centralise decision-making even for day-to-day work, CEOs often forget that such management style only overloads their star performers with extra work. It's the a classic Pareto principle at work. Under the principle, in any population that contributes to a common effect, a relative few of the contributors "" the vital few "" account for bulk of the effect. If these vital few get demoralised due to a lack of empowerment, no workaholic CEO can salvage things.
Workaholics often don't know whether they are indeed so. Here are two simple questions which will help you to find out whether you are indeed one:
  • Do you find yourself doing two or three things at one time, such as eating lunch and writing a memo while talking on the telephone?
  • Do you get angry when people don't meet your standards of perfection?
  • If the answers to both the questions are yes, it's indeed time to unwind and walk away from work at the end of the day. Apart from regaining your own productivity, chances are you would get back the group of talented, dedicated and more productive employees who had left you earlier.

    Dear Reader,

    Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
    We, however, have a request.

    As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

    Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

    Digital Editor

    First Published: Thu, September 06 2007. 00:00 IST