I have quit my job and left Indonesia a year ago, but still receive job offers from time to time, although no one dares to relocate me back to Jakarta as en expat (*wink). But when I was visiting my ex boss in his fancy office after having dinner with my ex-colleagues, seeing the whole department was still complete and on full force even after 9PM (and received a request if I could help them out since I’d be here for 2 months), I blurted that I would not want to go back to this working habit. And I mean it. I have been there and done that. And I have no intention of doing it all over again, because I have the chance to choose a better life.
Just like most people with so-called important jobs in Jakarta, my days started before six and finished around midnight. I was lucky I lived (still do, actually) in the city so I didn’t have to leave home before 5AM like others, but I still spent 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach my office. Normal days would be getting in the office at 8.30 and finished around 9PM, then it was either having late dinner with colleagues and friends, or attending social gatherings somewhere, or simply going to gym for a couple of hours. I used to work at weekends as well, and if the project was about to complete, I and everybody else would be awake 24 hours and stayed at the project until 3AM. When I was handling the projects outside Jakarta, my days would start even earlier and finish much later. When I moved to a different industry, long working hours remained (I once stopped over in Singapore after 13 hours flight and went straight to the conference room, jet-lagged and all), except that I could at least enjoyed some weekends off.
But let’s see.
Many of us turned up late, then after signing in we sneaked out for quick breakfast and were only ready to work after 9 AM. Half of our days were spent for traveling between meeting places and we left at 11.30 for lunch and were back after 2PM. Some of us were online all day with instant messaging and quietly chatting with others rather than trying to finish our jobs quickly. Meetings (if I didn’t run it) usually started late, and the first hour was spent to wait for others to turn up. There were more than one occasion where our workers were just sitting around doing nothing because the material hadn’t arrived on site yet, or the toolkits were lost somewhere and must be delivered again. No wonder it was difficult to finish one simple task, and even if we tried to commit to ourselves, the job was usually linked to someone else who would set it aside and went for breakfast/lunch/meeting and didn’t do it until the last minute.
However, there are people who have no choice but working late, even though they don’t spend their time messing about with unimportant stuff, and try to do five to ten jobs at the same time. My friends are a perfect example. Dinar spends 20 hours a day in the office everyday. I used to be busier than Prila and Debora, but now these two ladies go home later and later each day. And remember my ex-boss and the entire department who were still working when I turned up at the office at 9PM? These people might not remember the last time they went home on time. But again, half of their overtime are due to other factors. With acute traffic jams and our own (and other) inefficiency, we don’t have much choice except spending time longer in the office to be able to finish our tasks.
Working long hours were not only normal in Indonesia, but also in any other Asian countries, although for totally different reasons, like fierce competition. I used to be harassed by my regional client in Singapore who seemed to never sleep at all. When I replied his email at 9PM, he would reply back at 1AM and expect me to be ready with an answer by first thing in the morning – by reminding me regarding his previous email at 7AM. I went for a conference in Shanghai and after we finished at 10PM people still gathered outside the conference room and continued the discussions (I was ready to drag myself to bed but how could I if everyone else was not?).
But then in Scotland, I realize that the pace is totally different. Normal time means we go home around 5PM. Overtime means staying at the office until 7PM. No traffic jam means people can reach their offices between 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Some choose to ride bikes or even walk. It was strange at the beginning to see Stuart at home in the afternoon, because normally we saw each other after 10PM in Jakarta (it took him three hours to reach home from his office!).
And nobody is expected to work overtime if it is not absolutely necessary.
Back in Jakarta since last week and noticing my friends’ long working hours, I cringe, remembering that I used to be like that. I am aware that being in the position where they are right now, climbing the career ladder, trying to finish the project on time, be the best and exceed the target, there is not much choice except doing it. I just wish they realize that this is not healthy in the long run. I hope they remember that there’s life outside their jobs.
It’s just job, after all. Not a matter of life and death. The company wouldn’t collapse if we go home on time. And the task will still be there, everyday, waiting for us to finish. We finish one today, a new one will come the next day. We are just employees, after all, and the office is still running with or without us. And despite what we think, our bosses know that we are not irreplaceable.
** Happy birthday, Dinar. This posting is for you. We have danced for you on your birthday. Now it’s time for you to enjoy your special day. Go home! **