A joyous break from the top job

PREETI KOPPIKAR | Updated on December 31, 2011

Chhaya Momaya, image consultant

Devita Saraf, CEO of Vu Technologies

Aditi Talreja, Director of

Amit Khanna, Chairman, Reliance Entertainment   -  THE HINDU

When Citibank sees a great future in you, it means you have no life at present...” moans Chetan Bhagat in his autobiographical novel, 2 States.

Futurists in the 1970s predicted that technology will shrink our work pressures enough to allow us frequent leisure breaks. But studies show that among highly-placed officials, more than half fail to visit their ‘play land'. If the concept of vacation remains relatively unknown to many Indians, the Americans take even less vacation, and the Japanese fare the worst. In fact, the word karoshi — the phenomenon of being “overworked to death” — originated in Japan.

Devita Saraf, CEO of Vu Technologies, readily agrees: “A CEO or COO's life is much busier than others. Apart from the usual work hours, you also have to count travel, late-night conference calls and networking events that include chambers of commerce events, and industry and award functions. This means more of outside meals and less sleep hours. CEOs have to ensure that they stay fresh and alert in spite of this lifestyle. There is nothing heroic about being unhealthy though. CEOs pressed for time must find ways to eat light, sleep tight and exercise regularly.”

Perhaps worried that its decision-makers might end up becoming A Burnt-Out Case, like in the Graham Greene novel, the world of business is now taking a closer look at its overworked executives and the perils of this all-consuming work culture; doctors, meanwhile, are firmly writing out the prescription for these symptoms — a vacation!

According to a study by Fortune magazine, a typical CEO on average works 12 hours a day, excluding weekends; this average may be higher in India. But the corporate world realises it's time to pause and rethink. According to the recently published book CEO: Who Gets to the Top in America, only the grumpiest chief executives think leisure is for wimps.

Chhaya Momaya, image consultant and life coach at Pagoda Advisors, says she ensures her family holidays together three times a year. Two are educational holidays, namely exploring a new country, its culture and cuisine. The third holiday is longer and usually around summer vacation.

Striking a different note, Amit Khanna, Chairman of Reliance Entertainment, says he does not feel the need for holidays. A happy bachelor, he however does frequently take time off to be with his extended family in Delhi. Other than that, whenever he is abroad on an official trip, he uses the opportunity to explore that country.

Choosing to redefine the concept of vacation, Aditi Talreja, Director of, says relaxation is a state of mind. “I believe that if you enjoy what you are doing, there is no reason to be stressed. I love running, because I'm passionate about food and ordering online. Whenever I work, it keeps me mentally energised and refreshed....” She does, however, take short breaks built around work.

Don't wanna switch off?

More often than not, even when CEOs do go away on a vacation, they rarely get away from their work. With adrenaline rushing through the veins, today's CEO never leaves the side of his/her BBM/ phone/ laptop. Ironically, these very gizmos were supposed to liberate us from work pressures. Many now eye them as the mighty wireless menace.

Devita concedes the electronic intrusions but attempts to bring in some balance: “I use BBM to be in touch with my team, but we save the long conversations for office hours. My way of relaxing is to go for dance class, work out, meet friends, watch movies. Usual stuff... I like to add on a day or two of holiday if I am travelling on business to an interesting place. For example, I went to Germany for a trade fair and stopped by Slovenia for the weekend. Or if I am in New York, I may take a weekend off to meet friends in California. But I have too short an attention span to take a week off and laze on a beach.”

Chhaya, too, is not a “sun-n-sand” person, and in fact finds that being in touch with clients while on a vacation is another form of relaxation. “Just lazing around doing nothing is strenuous for me. I need activity and energy when holidaying. Fortunately my husband also thinks likewise,” she adds with a smile.

Being an entrepreneur, Aditi works 24x7 with “” always on her mind; she, however, doesn't like being called a workaholic because she enjoys what she does. Devita concurs, but only “as long as it doesn't get unhealthy”, she quickly adds.

Stretch, relax and pray!

“Skin is the largest organ, so it's stretching, stretching, stretching for me,” says Chhaya, while her husband prefers brisk walks. Though they differ in their choice of exercise, they still make the time to be with each other. Every day, before leaving home for work, they each light a ghee ka diya (lamp) and say a prayer.

Aditi loves going to the gym, as it gives her time to focus; as for prayer, she says she believes in a higher power and tries to connect with it.

For Devita, 15-20 minutes of yoga/ stretching/ pilates in the morning is her idea of a fitness regime. She has however noticed that she is less tired in the evenings whenever she begins the day with yoga. As for praying, she says, “I am a religious person who prays twice a day, fasts regularly and celebrates all the festivals of my religion. I am a peaceful person but I don't like attending talks, satsangs, nor am I even vaguely interested in some guru's lectures. My family and I worship at the religious places of all faiths and have a secular belief.”

Khanna of Reliance Entertainment loves to write. An excellent poet (he penned the popular song ‘ Chalte-chalte mere yeh geet yaad rakhana' in the film Chalte-Chalte), he browses through his current favourite poetry before retiring for the night. And there is one ritual he never misses on — meditating half an hour daily, which, he says, readies him to face the day with equanimity and calmness.

Reminder: Holiday now!

Cashing in on the corporate world's growing realisation of the importance of vacations, several popular hotels offer wired executives a certain detox programme that involves surrendering their mobile phones and BBMs to be locked up in the hotel's safe deposit vault during their stay! Some even offer a BlackBerry-thumb massage!

Companies are pitching in too… by tracking down workaholics and sending them, and their superiors, reminders to take the all-important vacation.

Published on November 24, 2011

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