Sanjeev Kotnala: Are you working enough to kill yourself?

09 Mar,2017

By Sanjeev Kotnala


‘If you don’t have hypertension, kidney problem, sleeping disorder or heart problem, even after working five years in advertising, you have not been working hard enough’.

Don’t know who said it first, but have heard it repeated many times in the advertising and marketing. industry. Many of us laughed as we shared it with the new trainees. We never saw the irony in the statement. It is time you sincerely evaluate the lifestyle and think about the stress that is getting absorbed.

Indian advertising and marketing firms seem immune to the work stress-related problems. It exists, but the excessive working is a tradition, a norm that remains unquestioned. No one is really bothered about the work stress. Moreover, it is not yet a legal issue in India.

Everyone looks the other way. It is like ragging. The seniors must make the juniors go through it to earn their spurs.

Employees themselves take pride and boast of the hours they put at work.

We haven’t moved away from the old concept of face time and visible hard working. The art of smart working remains a subject of symposiums, conclaves and training hours.

Medical research has proven, there exist a strong correlation between workplace stress and diseases like heart, hypertension, respiratory infections, ulcers, migraines, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Such continued stress can even lead to emotional distress and major psychological impact. Still, we don’t take the cause or the symptoms seriously.

Unfortunately, unlike some of the countries, India is far from imposing compensation for injuries resulting from continued stress on the job.



We work in a surreal hypersensitive challenging cut-throat work culture and expectation. It is the world of KRA, KPI and inflamed ambitions. Stress is considered a natural by-product. Employees are aware of it and willingly subject themselves to the torture.

They suffer from the big Indian psychological disorder that makes them believe. They are immune to dangerous situation. A firm belief, it will not happen to them.

The culture of adjusting and a case of helplessness with the ‘It’s like that only’ does not help. We defend the reality with a new set of question. Is the ideal stress-free workplace not just a thought?


You are dealing with your life. The results will be for you to suffer. Even so, I don’t expect you to take the precautionary step and even check to realign your work style and hours.

In May 2014, 24-year-old ad Li Yuan at Ogilvy & Mather Beijing, died of a sudden heart attack at the office. The organisation refutes that it was due to overwork. However, it is known that Li Yuvan worked overtime the whole month and was not leaving the office before 11p.m.

Check and if you have any of the symptoms, please take immediate action. Like difficulty in concentrating, frequent tearfulness and mood swings, disorientation, difficulty in making simple decisions, sudden changes in behavior, drop in patience level and quickly getting irritated, avoiding work, not feeling like going to work, frequent temper flare-ups, feeling or decreased libido not related to aging. Even chronic back pain, neck pain, chest pain, rashes, breathing problems, constipation and diarrhea is classic symptoms of work-related stress.

In 2014, Joey Tocnang, the hard stressed work schedule of the 27-year-old trainee at a casting company in central Japan died resulted in his heart failure at the firm’s dormitory.

Stress leads to sleep deprivation. This prevents the body and mind to have the desired time for everyday recovery, resulting into further stress and the cycle continues. At some stage, it gets out of control. It’s important to get the right amount of sleep.

Some time back, Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old employee of the advertising giant Dentsu, was driven to commit suicide due to stress brought on by long working hours. She regularly worked more than 100 hours of overtime a month, including at weekends, in the firm’s Internet advertising division.



It is believed that in China, some 6,00,000 people die from causes linked to work-related stress. Japan believes 20% of the entire workforce is at risk of death from overwork. They even have a name for it ‘karoshi’. The figure for India is unknown, but the problem is very visible before the eyes.

The people in advertising and marketing know the reality.

Japan is worried that its 21.3% employees work 49 plus hours a week.

It is believed that 80 hours of overtime a month is a real trap; it is like a suicide mission; it is walking towards serious stress related issues, problems and maybe death.


Most in advertising and marketing in India would be happily punching above this level.

Let me simplify the equation. Working 3 hours extra for 5 days during the week and putting another 7 working hours during the weekend is equivalent to 88-hour overtime. ! This is without buffering for the traffic led anxiety and additional stress that is affecting your life.



Give yourself some time. Analyze your work pattern. Learn and implement time management. Check if you are biting more than you can chew. Address the causes and maybe speak with the HR and seniors at work. Invest into a hobby and even take some time out with friends and family that is not necessarily about partying and drinking.

Realise that your work style is a lot dependent on computer and mobiles. You are almost married to these screens. You log on to Facebook, whatsapp or whatever is your solution, and you browse for long stretch. It can affect your mental and emotional health?

I hope you do not suffer from the phobia of missing a message or notification.

You do not suffer from anxiety attacks about not replying to another update.

There is no fear of missing out, and you are yet not an emotional loner. All your life answers are not on the screen. You are not addicted to it. You do not hear unending silent notifications that never were.

Truth is that these repeated innocent interruptions eat into the time available for other things. The result; enhanced time pressure.

Stop constant staring at the screen. Stop keeping your phone and notification switched on, all the time. Maybe you could start with defining your own mobile-visiting hours. Do not keep the email open all the time. Yes, answer the call, if you have to. Or plan to answer them when you take a break from your work.



Organisations that promote the culture of extra time in their attempt to increase productivity and efficiency are living a false dream. Excessive long hours do not increase productivity or efficiency. In fact, they cause more issues, problems, lead to more error, flared-up relationship, insubordination, lack of creativity and damage the organizational fabric.

It is your role to check the processes and culture. What are you promoting? Are there sections and people who can be a potential victim of work stress? How can your policies, Manpower management, expectations, reviews and systems bring it under control?


Remember It Is Your Life. Your Loved Ones Takes The Brunt Of Work-Related Stress. Organisation is immune to Such Issues. Think Again. What Are You Doing? Is The Cost Or The Outcome Justified?


Sanjeev Kotnala with 28 years of corporate experience is the founder of Intradia World; a Brand, Marketing & Management Advisory. His focus area includes Ideation and Innovation; he also conducts specialized workshops like IDEAHarvest, Liberate and InNoWait. Email tweet @s_kotnala web:


REFERENCE: (1) Who is liable for stress on job : (2) The alarming long term consequences of workplace stress : (3) Seven ways stress harm your body: (4) Can’t tear yourself away from the computer? Too much time online can lead to stress, sleeping disorders and depression: (5) Death from overwork Japan’s ‘karoshi’ culture blamed for young man’s heart failure: (6) Yet another reason to avoid stress- sudden death


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