You’re eager to start your new job. You convinced the management that timings and pressure are not an issue for you. Waking up at 5am? Sure, no problem.
Until the day comes when you are the only one out on the secluded street. Your work place is locked and the only one around to give you company is a security guard with one eye open. No problem, you knew there would be days like this — months even. But what if this pattern remains throughout your career? Well then, welcome to the world of operating in a 24/7 environment.
Although it has been more than four years since I am working in such an industry where public holidays and religious festivals account for a regular day at work, my family still likes to ask each time, “Will you be home for Eid this year?” The answer is always an apologetic no — disappointing my family as much as myself. So yes, you miss the biryani at home and your new jora is too shiny to wear to work but on the flipside, you have a genuine excuse to skip all those obligatory visitations you always dread.
For someone who juggles a spouse and children along with a demanding profession in such a work place, it can be even worse. The guilt you may feel when you have to explain you won’t make it in time for their birthday parties or the regret you may feel when you have to tuck your children’s Eidi under their pillow instead of handing it over the next day cannot be an easy emotion to deal with. Yet, as some claim, duty comes first.
Be it medical institutions, security forces or the news industry — working around the clock is routine. An irregular work schedule comes with personal costs that can be hard to measure. You can try as much to explain to your peers that your responsibilities are a bit different compared to theirs but they’ll never really understand. Instead, if you are a woman and coming from a some-what traditional background, chances are you will be made to feel guilty for putting your career over your family but it’s part of the package.
Working abroad, in a similar industry I realised that the rules don’t change whether you are a man or a woman. You will take the public transport like everyone else and you will work overnight alone if you have to. Being in Pakistan, however, changes things a bit. Most administrations at such industries provide you with some kind of a transport service because you are a woman, and a woman shouldn’t have to travel alone at midnight, or so they say. You are also likely to be pardoned from doing the overnight shift — or at least provided the company of others while you work those hours.
Knowing everyone is fast asleep while you are on your way to work can often give you a sinking feeling — sitting all alone until the morning can be even worse. A colleague often came out of his ‘graveyard shifts’ telling us stories about all the spooky sounds he heard at night and in what ways his mind played tricks on him in the solitude — good thing I happen to be a woman and am assured the comfort of my home by midnight at the latest!
But what draws us to such professions? The demanding nature of the job, the pressure that comes with it or the gratification of knowing you are providing a service at a time when no one else is? All of the above I would say if you asked me.
The news does not stop, a clichéd tagline for many publications, but so very true. When my younger cousins ask why I have to be in office when everyone else has a holiday, I try explaining that if I sat home, how would they know what’s happening in the world? My audience being of an age that doesn’t really care about the news normally don’t get my point but reaching out to a broader audience, as much as a 24/7 environment can take a toll on your home and social life, it can be gratifying in several ways too.
Working at odd timings in intense or demanding environments also means your deadlines are often different than others. Where some would stress about projects they have to handover in a few days, people in the news industry normally wouldn’t even get time to stress as their deadline had passed even before the text was handed over to them!
For my friends who teach or work in the corporate sector, receiving a call at 3am from office would be absurd, but in my life, it is pretty routine. You never know what time disaster will strike or breakthrough accords will be made, and because of that uncertainty, security and rescue forces, disaster management personnel, medical staff and journalists are often running on different time schedules and lifestyles than others. Ideal, perhaps not. Rewarding? I’d like to think so.