Pajamas and job insecurity: Why Turks hate to work from home

Even the technically-savvy and work-life balance-conscious Generation Z are unhappy about working at home. “81 percent of the people would like to return to the office after the pandemic,” according to a poll carried out in October by Turkish Energy, Water, Electricity Workers’ Labour Union (TES-İŞ).

It all began when Yapı Kredi Bankası (YKB) declared about ten days ago that it would allow some of its employees to work from home after the pandemic as well. On Jan. 19, it was announced that YKB - 50 percent of which is owned by Koç Holding and 20 percent by Italy’s UniCredit SpA- will begin by introducing a remote working approach for more than a third of its staff at its chic headquarters in downtown Istanbul. It will also offer another one third to adopt a hybrid system that combines time at the office and time working from home. 
 
Koç Group CEO Levent Çakıroğlu said that 35,000 employees will work remotely after the pandemic. But Koç, one of the largest - and in all fairness, one of the most desirable employers in Turkey  - is hardly the only one; from media moguls to pharmaceutical companies, businesses big or small are silently or not-so-silently working on restructuring that would enable their staff to work from home after the pandemic.  Some companies in Turkey and beyond had started this before the pandemic, calling it “flexible hours” or “Work-from-home Wednesdays” but the pandemic hastened the pace. Space, after all, is the ultimate luxury - and smaller offices mean quite a lot of cost-cutting.
 
On the employees side, however, this is hardly the great news that some Chief People Officers (the pretentious new term for the personnel managers or Human Resources Director) would have us believe. Had we not experienced the house-bound days of the pandemic, perhaps the idea of making our coffee and walking to work in pajamas, eschewing the rush hour traffic, would have us shouting in delight. But unless you are the great Anne Wintour, the legendary editor of Vogue, posing in your mension’s library in dark sun glasses (why?), carving office space at home is a struggle.
 
Even the technically-savvy and work-life balance-conscious Generation Z are unhappy about working at home. “It is the end of official work hours,” Selen Şimşek, a computer engineer, told Medyascope’s Fırat Fıstık. “The managers text me any odd hour of the day and they require an immediate response. I turn on my computer at 8 a.m. and leave it at 5 p.m. I have to account for my time if they cannot reach me within minutes.”
 
Selin cannot even claim to have the worst boss in the world. That title surely goes to the micro-managing sadist who announced that the entire company will spend the whole workday on a Zoom call with video while working from home. According to the article in The Cut, a website by New York magazine, he framed it as a useful tool for “establishing a work-life balance” and so all can “see their co-workers and feel like they’re back in the office.” 
 
A quick poll conducted by the daily newspaper Sözcü says people who work from home miss “socialization” the most, followed by the blurred line between work hours and time at home - echoing Selen Şimşek’s words.  But few, particularly the young, dare raise their voice, because they feel, nevertheless, lucky to have a job - a feeling most employers exploit.
 
“81 percent of the people would like to return to the office after the pandemic,” according to a poll carried out in October by Turkish Energy, Water, Electricity Workers’ Labour Union (TES-İŞ). Carried out among 1000 members of the Union all across Turkey, the poll found that around 80 percent reported that they feared losing their jobs in short to medium run. “They have felt alienated from the company, lost the socialization and solidarity with the colleagues and many fear that they are losing their professional skills as the time at home increases,” TES-İŞ Chairman Ersin Akma said.
 
“Working from home deprives you of the support system with colleagues and ends up with you having a relationship one-on-one with just one contract - probably your line-manager,” Fıstık, who interviewed many people for his article, told Duvar English. He said that many people he talked to felt ashamed about complaining when so many people, from doctors to deliverers, were under great strain because they had to work outside. Still, they felt alone working at home - and professionally insecure. No wonder so many employment lawyers are offering views all across Turkish papers on the rights of remotely working employees.
 
While the situation is grim, some of us, including myself and a couple of friends, actually love working from home and have been doing it for years, long before the pandemic. We struggled to make our families understand that though we are in a nightgown and  have dirty hair,  we are at a meeting and what’s more, making money out of it. During the pandemic, I did not have to tell my husband that “at home does not mean ‘available’”, we have had that conversation in 2018, when I had my first full-time job working from home.
 
Don’t I miss going to the office? Occasionally. I miss the newsrooms in which we shout at each other and swear when some article arrived too late  (though I fear this was left in the 20th century). Then I tell myself that I no longer have to be stuck in company get aways in nature and have jumping jacks to “breathe better” in those awful “team bonding” meetings.