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The New Buzzword at Work and How Muslims Can Cope

by Helmy Sa'at

As of now, the world of business has a new favourite buzzword: Journey.  It is used to describe anything and everything that touches the business world so it is heterogeneous in character, akin to the multiplicity of identities of Muslims living and working in the digital age. 

How is our journey in the work and family spheres thus far, which has been swallowed by the ongoing pandemic?

Shifting Sands Of Our Realities

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At the macro level in the corporate world, progress is marked through various benchmarks such as profits, diversity inclusion percentages and many more. Each of us has business goals to fulfil and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to adhere to. However, progress is also intangible and is very well happening on a daily basis, at the micro — personal — level.

Our career has been a steady part of our individual identity. Most of us would have experienced some form of structure which usually manifests itself in the five-day work week. With a set daily routine, not only do we have goals to achieve, but we know when and where to be without fail. Take a moment to reflect on the following: How do we juggle work-life balance then?

After more than two years of living in a pandemic, we have come to adjust and even accept (begrudgingly, perhaps) a new normal of sorts. This time, it encompasses working remotely, attending meetings without ever having to leave our bedrooms, and not eating lunch in a communal setting. Again, let’s reflect: How do we balance work-life spheres? And, did we lose our sense of purpose with the blurring of work and family spaces which has morphed to a shared space due to the pandemic?

Have we lost sight of who we really are?

The transition and journey has been exhausting and blurry for some; with no way to return to the ‘normal’ of the pre-pandemic period with the constantly evolving Covid. Now, there is generally a push to combine remote work and being physically present in the office, at your desk. No doubt, it is natural to feel anxiety at every changing stage.

In this journey, how do we measure our progress at work and at home as Muslims in today’s fragmented digital world which has been drastically disrupted by the pandemic? 

More importantly, how do we protect our true selves and still grow as we juggle multiple identities as an agile team player at work in the 21st century, without compromising the needs and quality of a family life that is just as valuable, if not more? 

Alas, have we lost bits and pieces of ourselves in our daily journey as productive Muslims against the backdrop of challenging realities?

Positive Journeying Of Personal Progress

One repercussion of chasing progress that is largely measured against financial gains or achievement of business goals would be burnout. At times, we might unintentionally partake in the rat race after being swept by the full force of herd mentality that encourages collective competition. 

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This is when we should be mindful of stress signs encompassing headaches, fatigue, rapid heart rate, digestive issues or even insomnia instead of dismissing it as a rare anomaly. How do we protect ourselves from such negativity that impacts our personal and professional progress, and has the potential of chipping away at our sense of self?

Two very fundamental things we could do to help ourselves: Remain clear of daily work requirements while staying organised and avoiding perfectionism. First, it is about setting expectations which craft a clear direction for completing daily tasks of any project. This is about knowing what is expected of you while remaining organised from the start of each day. Staying organised is as simple as avoiding work desk clutter to adhering to a strict schedule by planning your day efficiently and aligning with the overall progress.

Next, we might have been inflicted by a daunting sense of perfectionism which could lead to paralysing progress and crippling of goal, affecting overall progress when left unchecked. The key is to remember that working in silo is not always the best approach to any project or work task. Instead, working in a collaborative fashion could help to alleviate stress and workload besides potentially increasing the quality of contributions. However, this does not mean to serve as a bandaid for temporary relief, or a one-size-fits-all solution.

At the same time, we can always return to the Quran which acts as our core guiding light in life, especially, in calming our hearts and anxiety of mind:

قَالَ رَبِّ ٱشْرَحْ لِى صَدْرِى وَيَسِّرْ لِىٓ أَمْرِى وَٱحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِى يَفْقَهُوا۟ قَوْلِى

Moses prayed, “My Lord! Uplift my heart for me, and make my task easy, and remove the impediment from my tongue so people may understand my speech.

[Surah Taha, 20:25-28]

(Re)Claim Our Career Journey

In recent times, many positive changes have been implemented by several countries in order to create and sustain a positive and productive work environment. As of 1 January 2022, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) grabbed global headlines with the shift to a 4.5-day work week in a bid to improve competitiveness. Meanwhile, the Belgian government is proposing a “Right to Disconnect” law for public sector workers starting in February whereby bosses would not be able to contact staff after working hours. That step has sparked hope for the same to be rolled out in the private sector as well. Since late last year, Portugal has made it illegal for employers to contact their employees after working hours with penalties enforced.

A step in the right direction, no doubt. Yet, it is inevitable as we need to recalibrate our psyche and subsequently enforce discipline in practice in order to fully embrace such changes, not only for our mental wellness but for the sake of our children and for generations to come. One very loud learning point we have come to accept from the pandemic being, there is definitely more to life than work and career as more could be done without a regimented structure, a legacy of past generations.

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Progress is not one dimensional. Same goes for our individual journey which is layered and nuanced in every facet of our lives. We are all on a multitude of journeys that intersects and have no end date in sight. However, we are still in control as at the core, we continue to determine the direction and pace, and not allow ourselves to be swept away by the tides of change.