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Work-life doesn’t have to be a tightrope walk

Work-life doesn’t have to be a tightrope walk

Some techniques from the CIO of the world’s third-largest spirits company.

T.K. Subramanian is vice president, IS at UB Group. He started his journey with the brand in 1983, at Herbertson's (one of UB's companies). He moved on as country manager of Ubex (UB's software export arm). In 1995, he set up the IT department of McDowell's (now USL). He implemented ERP and in 2005 started virtualiaing infrastructure. Today, all 40 manufacturing units of the group are consolidated on one platform. He was interviewed by Kanika Goswami of CIO India.

"I first learnt the importance of work-life balance in keeping a professional focus 30 years ago. I had just quit L&T and joined a pharmaceutical company. I had only been with the company for four months when a date for my wedding was set. I knew getting leave would be difficult, but my reporting manager assured me that marriage was the one occasion for which adjustments could be made. On my part, I was willing to finish work that was assigned to me. It was all going well, when the reporting manager told me - just a few days before my wedding - that his boss objected to our arrangement. Apparently, it was too soon for me to take leave.

What did I do? I got married and I put in my papers on my return. At my exit interview, I was honest about why I wanted to leave. But that experience influenced the way I have thought of work-life balance ever since. It made me determined to provide a sensible balance for myself and my team. Here's how I do that:

Build in back-ups. In my team, we make sure that everyone takes off for family time, be it children's birthdays or anniversaries. We ensure that someone can step in when someone else needs to be away and we've also created infrastructure to guarantee that work doesn't suffer. Geographical boundaries really don't matter any more. People need some time away, especially since my staff sometimes works on weekends (Although we make sure no one works late unless absolutely required.) It also helps to build adequate redundancy in processes.

Work with a merged calendar. Both my personal and work calendars are one and the same. It helps me ensure that no clashes - like birthdays - take place.

Be flexible. At UB, given that we are an old economy company, everything is based on grade and position. But in my department, we don't always go by the book. I give my people facilities based on need - not rank. For instance, UB staffers need to be of a certain rank before they can get a data connection at home. But if the junior-most person needs to monitor the servers 24x7, he needs access from home. So if he needs a high speed data card, he gets it. And my management supports me.

We also have arrangements - though not formal - for employees to work from home if their kids are unwell or their families need attention. It's my opinion that productivity actually rises with arrangements like these. That's probably why this freedom has begun to spread to other departments.

Create a nurturing environment. I strongly feel that so long as a team is confident that no one will finger-point, they will never be stressed. We create an environment of understanding and co-operation, one in which everyone is treated well, and everyone knows they need to treat others well.

Make quality time count. I believe that it's not the amount of time you spend with your family that matters but the quality. Among other things, I make sure that we share at least one meal. On the days I get home from work early, I make sure we don't sit in front of the television.We try to go for short walks, to a nearby temple, and generally try to spend time together. I always make sure that when I am home, I am really at home: By and large, I don't carry over work and I switch off.

Using these techniques, it gets easier to balance your work with a personal life - and that of your team as well. And when you get that right, it increases productivity by several notches."

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