Interview Life & Style

Burnt out and nowhere to go

Sriram Bhupathiraju

Sriram Bhupathiraju   | Photo Credit: By arrangement


Sriram Bhupathiraju analyses burnout among mid-career IT professionals in Hyderabad to find out why they hang on to punishing schedules

Sriram Bhupathiraju quit his well-paying corporate job in 2012, after having worked as a business analyst for 11 years, first in the United States and then in India. He would clock in around 18 hours for 15 to 20 days without an off, working according to time zones of global clients. His health suffered, he was disillusioned and began questioning the purpose of his work.

In the last eight years, his health has improved and he talks as though the weight is off his shoulders. Sriram runs half marathons, has backpacked to 11 countries, has visited every UNESCO World Heritage Site in India and now learns Kuchipudi from Bala Tripura Sundari.

He recently started working as a researcher with the Centre for Research in Infrastructure Development and Policy.

After quitting his IT job, he pursued masters in anthropology from the University of Hyderabad and an M.Phil from the IIT-Hyderabad. For his M Phil research topic, he didn’t have to look far. “What better than to look into your own backyard?” he says, referring to his research on ‘Burnout: An ethnographic study of occupational stress among mid career IT professionals in Hyderabad’.

Though we do come across engineers who quit their jobs for creative pursuits — writing, music, filmmaking, art, theatre… — Sriram says it’s only a small percentage that veers away. His research is about the majority that faces burnout and sees no escape route.

Personal stories

For his ethnographic study he spoke to mid-level IT professionals who’ve worked for more than five years. He conducted 34 interviews in all. The sample size might be small, but academic research of an ethnographic kind, he explains, is not about giving out a questionnaire. “I didn’t impose my ideas on them. I outlined the objective of my research and listened to their stories, in detail. Then I analysed the data,” he says.

A joke among Telugus goes that one studies engineering and then thinks of what to do with life. Those who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s can recall the craze to study engineering and land a job in the United States. Never mind if the students didn’t have their hearts set on engineering. It was seen as a passport to a socio-economic transition. Sriram says things haven’t improved.

He also spoke to students at a leading engineering institute and observed that many of them had taken up engineering because they saw it as a “natural choice” or because “everyone else is doing it”. Sriram calls them reluctant engineers.

Always logged in

As for mid-level IT professionals, his research looks into several aspects of their life. Flexible timings, initially considered a boon to break away from the old school 9am to 5pm/10am to 6pm work schedule, morphed into a trap and employees worked overtime, to cater to clients in different time zones. The digital scenario made it impossible to switch off work after a time. Sriram terms this as ‘collapse of time and space’.

As the ‘working from home’ concept grew, employees were expected to log in from anywhere. “So work engages an employee 24/7. We straddle three clocks — the [body’s] circadian rhythm, the local time and global time zones,” he says.

To make things worse, Sriram points out that the IT sector doesn’t look at itself as labour to address these issues. He mentions how corporate and labour lawyers scoff at the idea of addressing IT employee issues as labour issues since there’s lucrative pay.

Socio economic reasons

This pay package prevents employees from breaking free. “You transcend a social class when you land a job,” says Sriram. Socio-economic factors follow. The place of residence, type of residence (gated community? villa?), type of car, the school your child goes to (is it an international school?) are just a few factors that add to the stress.

Sriram’s research doesn’t outline the solution: “My research puts things out. There is no one single solution to the problems; if I had to look at them, it would involve a Ph.D,” he laughs.

He has approached Jayesh Ranjan, principal secretary IT, Telangana, with his research and requested if Nasscom and HYSEA (Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association) can look into it. “Burnout has received scant attention. My research aims to address this gap,” he sums up.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 4:21:01 AM |

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