Early last year, I took a long, hard look at the mirror, drove into work and chucked up the job that I loved.
I had my reasons. After five years of breathing work, I suddenly had a new boss whose lament about the lack of ethics and talent in the Indian media made him a bit of a red flag. The more he talked of ‘core teams’, the more I began to feel like an outsider.
There were other extenuating factors. I was exhausted with juggling: parent-teacher meetings, family obligations, a mother who at 75 wasn’t in the pinkest of health, running a household. The biggest tug of war was over my daughters.
At grades IX and VII, the next few years were make-or-break years for them. They needed me home, more than I was needed at work…and so it went. The company understood. We shook hands and parted as friends.
Well-wishers offered advice. There were those who praised my decision and said I was headed to a more fulfilled life. Others warned that I was making a huge mistake, one that would lead to frustration and despair (“Your children will be gone in a few years, then what will you do?”) Others said, not always kindly, “You’re lucky you don’t need to work. Your husband earns for you.”
We work to fulfil various needs — not just the rent and the home loan EMIs. For a large part of my adult life, my primary identity was that of a working woman. Now, the great unknown loomed ahead. I loathe shopping, I never ‘do’ lunch, house-work bores me. What on earth would I do with my time? How would I cope with giving up the independence that a job brings with it? And, worst of all, what if my daughters hated having me around? Would I turn into one of those alpha moms — caricatured by their obsessive involvement with every tiny detail of their children’s lives?
Creating a sense of loyalty
A while ago, I had been at a seminar where Vivek Paul, former vice-chairman of Wipro and then managing partner of Texas Pacific Group, was a keynote speaker. Dean Dipak Jain of the Kellogg School of Management asked a question. Young employees, said Dean Jain, are more loyal to pay packages than to their employers. “How do we create a sense of loyalty which is in our sanskaras (culture)?” he asked.
Paul’s reply was like an epiphany to me. First, he said, expecting employees to be innocent of their financial benefit was unfair. Second, staff turnover, up to a point, is good for organizations. And third, if management really wants to retain talent, it must create a sense of purpose — not just in terms of a career graph but also in terms of belonging. Make employees feel like another cog in the wheel, and you can be sure they are not going to be around for very long.
Holding on to staff
Because staff attrition and employee retention have become such buzzwords in management-speak (and also because there seems to be such a real talent shortage), I spoke to a close friend, a head hunter to ask him why, in his experience, people chucked up jobs. Was it for better salaries or more perks?
While these were factors, he conceded, the number one reason was the immediate supervisor. Stick a bright employee with an incompetent boss and he or she will leave (hence the old cliché that people quit bosses not organizations). He listed a bunch of other reasons: under employing staff or working them too hard, stress, office politics, transfer of a spouse and so on.
And then came the clincher, a big reason why people quit was because they just didn’t identify with the organization. Who’s to blame for that, I asked? The organization, he replied.
There is a school of thought that believes that the best way to get employees to perform is to create a sense of insecurity: pit people against each other and they’ll do their best to outperform each other.
Sense of belonging
But a former editor showed me a much better way by creating a sense of belonging. He created a sense of family – it mattered to him that everybody was included, every view considered. The result? A truly happy workplace, where everybody looked forward to coming in to work and everybody did their best because they loved what they were doing and were sure their talent would be recognized — and rewarded.
It’s been a year since I quit full-time working. In the last one year, I have finally reclaimed my life. I read, I potter about my house, I have rediscovered old friends and relationships.
My daughters aren’t always thrilled with the fact that I always seem to be hanging around. But I haven’t turned into an alpha mom. And life is good, for now.
Namita Bhandare writes every other Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org