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'Recession is temporary, your capability is permanent'

By DIVYA NAIR
April 27, 2020 11:18 IST
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'You need to polish your skills and be prepared to be an asset in the 'new normal' work environment.'
'Access MOOCs (massive open online courses) and keep your brain razor sharp, despite not having a job offer or having your job offer rescinded.'

Work from home

IMAGE: According to Wakefit's survey, 59% Indian professionals worked from their beds, while 56% used their sleep space for eating and watching online content on their phones or laptops. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pixabay.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only forced people to work out of their homes, it has also hampered productivity, triggered pay cuts and pink slips across sectors.

If MoneyControl's report is anything to go by, 150,000 professionals across IT firms are expected to lose their jobs in the next few months.

Naturally, all of this has a direct influence on both the physical and mental well being of individuals who are working and sleeping late.

"People have been worrying about losing their jobs, safety of their families and managing their finances in these uncertain times," Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder and director, Wakefit, a mattress and sleep solutions firm based out of Bengaluru, tells Rediff.com's Divya Nair.

Your recent survey indicates that a majority of Indian professionals are sleeping late since the lockdown began. What reasons do you attribute for this?

Our 'Work from Home' survey data indicates a 40% rise in late-night sleepers since the lockdown.

Before the lockdown came into effect on March 25, 2020, 25% respondents reported going to bed post mid-night. However, during the lockdown period, the corresponding figure rose to 35%.

Nearly 49% of people have been staying up late worrying about losing their jobs, safety of their families and managing their finances in these uncertain times.

There are several reasons for this. Primarily, I would say it is the stress of coping with an unprecedented public health situation like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most people tend to underestimate the effects of sleep on their mental and physical wellbeing. Our bodies and brains don't just shut down when we go to sleep, they are in fact hard at work ensuring that the internal organs run smoothly. It also helps rejuvenate the body by aiding in its recovery.

The body works like a fine-tuned machine on processing memories, creating a narrative on the previous day's events, detoxifying, and in general preparing for the day ahead.

So, when sleep suffers, it wreaks havoc with our immune system, hormones, blood pressure, appetite, and just about every aspect of our health.

How can we reverse this trend?

One of the most effective ways to improve sleep is to maintain the sanctity of the sleep space.

Our survey found that 59% respondents worked from their beds, while 56% used their sleep space for eating and watching online content on their phones or laptops.

We need to stop using the bed for such activities and help our brain associate relaxation, with the ambience of the space.

Something that has really helped me is creating a sleep ritual -- I switch off all electronic gadgets an hour before bedtime.

Studies have shown how the blue light from TVs, cell phones, tablets and computer screens can hamper our sleep by disrupting the secretion of melatonin hormone.

According to our survey, adjusting the light (13%), adding aromatic scents (6%), listening to music or white noise (8%) and following guided sleep meditation (11%) helps people sleep better.

In your opinion, why is it so difficult for young professionals to maintain a healthy work schedule?

I agree that working late has become the norm in today's digital age. We are always 'connected' via our smartphones and laptops to our work.

The concept of a 9 to 5 job no longer exists in most industries. Yet, stress is often subjective.

Two people can be doing the same tasks in the same work environment and experience difficult levels of stress.

I believe the key is to learn to identify your stress triggers and ways to cope with them in an effective manner.

However, now with the current lockdown, things have become even worse.

The lines between work hours and family hours are blurred, as are the boundaries of office work and house chores.

Everything is a blur, with very little to differentiate weekdays from weekends.

For instance, according to the Wakefit.co Work from Home study, 41% of marketers are going to bed post 12 am as opposed to 27% before the lockdown.

Another notable observation we also made through the study is that entrepreneurs have been negatively impacted, with the percentage of people going to bed post 12 am has increased by 10% ever since the lockdown began.

The number of sleep hours also seems to have suffered.

As far as finance professionals are concerned, 45% are staying up late because they are worrying about their jobs, finances, and their family's health.

Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder, director, WakeFit

From an employee to an employer, how has the journey been for you? What are some of the lessons you learned from your first job as an English trainer?

I had just finished my 10th grade and took up my first job as a spoken English trainer and was 15 years old at the time.

My job involved teaching grammar, sentence formation and skills that would help people learn the language so they could adapt it in their professional and personal lives.

My students were about 25 to 30 years and they were a mix of students, homemakers and salesmen who wanted to up their confidence levels and connect better with the world outside.

Teaching this vast gamut of people was indeed quite an experience for me.

My first job taught me how to earn respect, irrespective of my age. All the respect and gratitude I received was because of what I had to offer, and this helped boost my confidence and set higher standards for myself.

This experience also taught me that learning is a continuous process and that there is no age to get started.

The fact that I was 15 and left with my own devices to teach a group of students was empowering.

This helped me pick up on my entrepreneurial skills and the fact that it was completely okay to take risks and trust people at face value.

After your first two start-ups failed, how did you inspire yourself to start Wakefit?

Being a first-generation entrepreneur has its own advantages. It meant that I could pave my own way through first principles learning.

My entrepreneurial journey has been rather bumpy, until Wakefit.co

. My first two start-ups were not doing great and they had to be shut down. This was a low period in my life, professionally and personally. However, it gave me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and apply them to my current business.

It is said that 100% of start-ups may not succeed, but 100% of entrepreneurs will succeed.

The spirit of this sentence is that even if the start-up does fail, the entrepreneur takes away key lessons that s/he may not have learned otherwise.

The key traits that I feel I have learned are to have complete humility to listen and learn from customers, to treat people with kindness and lastly, to set continuous learning goals to get better.

What is your staff strength at Wakefit.co and how are you dealing with the lockdown?
Have you been able to pay salaries on time? How are you managing financially?

There are over 600 odd employees (staff and labour). We think it is important that all employees are given guidance and provided assurance during the current situation.

As co-founders of the company, Ankit Garg and I believe that transparency is key in such uncertain times.

We make it a point to communicate company policies, changes, and developments on a regular basis to all teams and provide assurance on aspects like salary and other benefits.

We have been profitable since the first year because of our focus on business fundamentals and the pandemic situation has kept us rather calm in terms of finances.

We announced to our team that we would be paying the full salaries despite not having any revenues in March and April 2020.

We would ensure we take up other projects and value adding work rather than take knee-jerk reactions of letting people go. We

With the lockdown being extended, will you consider pay cuts or job cuts in the next few months?

At the moment, we haven't taken a call on pay cuts and layoffs.

Even if such a situation arises, we have decided to prioritise and take pay cuts as founders and core team members, so that the junior staff will be able to take most of their salary.

So we as a company come out on the other side, as a more loyal band, committed to each other, rather than worry about layoffs.

It is important that the employees are aware that the management team supports and always stands by them.

What are some of the skills or careers that will be in demand in the next 5 or say, 10 years? And why?

Studies indicate that jobs related to automation will be in high demand in the near future. However, I don't believe that machines will make humans dispensable in the workspace.

Skills like critical thinking, creativity, mental elasticity, interdisciplinary knowledge, and people skills will ensure that the human workforce remains essential for business growth.

Roles involving a high degree of creativity, management roles which require emotional quotient, cross-functional designers, engineering around artificial intelligence capabilities, are some of the roles that will remain in high demand.

It is important to keep learning and adding on to your skills, your added skill set will help you flourish and reach new heights.

Your advice to young entrepreneurs who are struggling during the lockdown.

Being an entrepreneur can be rather lonely. Especially during tough times, such as the current lockdown, it is important to reach out to others and find a healthy outlet to distressing feelings.

The million dollar question is the extent of slowdown and the duration for which it will last. Here are some lessons I have internalised as an entrepreneur and may help others.

  • If you have co-founders and core team members, brainstorm with them. If that's not an option, try to rely on other entrepreneurs in your network or alumni communities. Most entrepreneurs are in the same boat and it might be fruitful to discover answers together.
  • It is better to simply be transparent with your team and take them into confidence about the company's situation and plans. Make them part of your journey and keep engaging and motivating them.
  • If you are profitable, then bolster the cash situation. If you are a cash burning start-up, evaluate all options such as rationalising expenses, cutting down on non-scalable experiments, enforcing a hiring freeze to keep the company running for the foreseeable future etc.
  • How we treat people in the toughest times decides how the world remembers you during the rest of the times. Your employees and customers are the strength of the company and always make sure to treat everyone with respect.
    Tend to your employees's queries if they reach out to you, this will help reassure them about the situation and also motivate them into giving their 200%.

Your message to the class of 2020.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for youngsters hoping to get placed in the current job market.

Please know that the global uncertainty today will make way for stability and career opportunities in the near future.

Once the pandemic is under control and we get back to business, there will be openings for fresh talent in most industries.

In fact, some industries, such as e-commerce and healthcare, are already making recruitments to meet the growing demand.

Depending on the industry that you will be joining, you need to polish your skills and be prepared to be an asset in the 'new normal' work environment.

The only important suggestion is to access MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other online resources and keep your brain razor sharp, despite not having a job offer or having your job offer rescinded.

Remember, recession is temporary, but your capability is permanent. So keep honing your capabilities.

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