Have you noticed how, if you spend time with the same people at work all the time, you begin to talk and emote like them? Over time you begin to internalize a little style of speech, or a certain facial tic, or manner of gesticulation.
In my case, this happens when someone contradicts me during a meeting. Till a year or two ago I would merely get upset, maybe give them the look or a finger, and then make a mental note to destroy them later.
But not anymore. It appears that I have picked up certain subtle characteristics from my editors. Now when someone contradicts me I subtly pick up a telephone, iPad, videoconference mic, or one of the lighter members of the copy desk, and throw them at the offending person. This distracts the contradictor and gives me enough time to lift and properly aim a Bloomberg terminal.
Also Read Sidin Vadukut’s earlier columns
Ha ha. I am kidding, of course. No need for expensive Bloombergs in this economic scenario. Any computer will do.
Yet, another interesting usage I have picked up from a colleague is to refer to certain people or actions as “shaheed”.
“Shaheed” is used widely in this part of the world to refer to people who have given up their lives for a religious or patriotic cause.
To call someone in office a “shaheed” means that they have voluntarily done something for the company at great personal cost and at the prospect of little or no personal reward.
For instance: cancelling your two-week Turkey trip for some frivolous 15-minute ISO 9000 meeting, anything goal-oriented that involves interns, and offering to organize those “cultural events” that involves getting “everyone to participate enthusiastically and win many exciting prizes including one slightly damaged Bloomberg terminal!”
Your chief executive officer has a brainwave and wants to explore launching a tablet computer specifically designed for left-handed Sagittarians with lactose intolerance. He wants someone to study the market and present a compelling case to the directors.
But who will volunteer? He sends a mail to all the new MBA recruits. You reply enthusiastically…
You’ve just become a shaheed.
A few days ago I came across the single biggest, most disturbing case of shaheed-ity (shaheed-ness?) I have ever heard of. A friend on twitter mentioned an award ceremony at an IT company.
Ever alert to the juicy cubicle story, I probed for details.
So this company is handing out awards for good performances. One guy walks up and the boss announces that he is being awarded for the usual corporate delights: hard work, commitment, willingness to stay late. And then a bombshell is dropped: the employee volunteered to go to New York for a project even as his father was being admitted to a hospital here for serious surgery.
For this superb “expression of commitment” the company was rewarding him generously.
After the announcement, my source told me, a sheet of macabre silence fell over the office.
This, dear reader, is a supreme example of the supreme shaheed—when an employee sacrifices everything for the sake of the brutal, faceless organization that has, in all probability, enrolled itself with the Registrar of Companies as an “actor” in order to evade taxes.
Many times in this column I have mentioned other such stories. There was that guy who postponed his honeymoon for some six months in order to finish an important project.
Perhaps you also recall the banker who, faced with imminent divorce, ran home during a meeting to make love to his wife. And then came back to work. Earlier this week, I was told of the management consultant who has a drawing by his son on his table that says: “Daddy! Why don’t you ever come home?”
Then there was the steel plant engineer who noticed the lack of phosphorous in a batch of molten steel. And so chopped off an arm and dropped the bone in.
I may have made one of those up for emphasis.
There are incidences of shaheed-itude all around us. Everyday in our offices and trading floors and factories people make selfless and senseless sacrifices for their employers. Yet, often they get nothing for their efforts except scarred families, missing limbs, wooden plaques, extra barfi and crystal bowls.
This must stop.
I think it is time we celebrate the selflessness of our workplace. When the next generation of young people join the corporate world they must do so not with hopes of work-life balance, but listening to these ballads of martyrdom.
It gives me great pleasure to announce the first annual Cuby Awards for selfless sacrifice in the line of cubicle duty. Email your stories of heroism to the official id below. In four to six weeks time, we will publish the best and most inspiring of these stories. All names and employers will be kept confidential, of course. So feel free to share generously.
The nation demands it.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org