I have always been under the impression that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who hate their jobs and those who love it. (Of course, there are people with no jobs whatsoever. But why make fun of them and fall foul of sedition laws no?)
Now, on the basis of months of meticulous research—mostly in the form of eavesdropping on conversations in trains and coffee shops—I can safely hypothesize that the number of people who actively dislike their jobs vastly outnumber the ones who enjoy their work.
Yes I know what you’re thinking. And I have adjusted my data for that peculiar social tendency: people are wary of admitting that they like their jobs. Especially without prompting. This is considered bad etiquette. Much like saying things like “Inflation is a problem, but frankly I make too much money to care.”, or, “Wow. This is your new baby? Congrats! I can see why you haven’t posted any pictures on Facebook.”
Social norms keep the number of self-confessed job-lovers low.
However, I have just realized that there is a third variety of cubiclists that is even rarer. And that is the cubiclist who doesn’t give a rat’s backoffice about his job. He/she does the job. He/she collects his/her monthly pay check. And he/she carries on with the rest of his/her life. No heartache. No drama. No wailing or gushing about bosses, co-workers, customers or policies.
I ran into one such specimen at an airport earlier this week. The individual was talking to someone on his mobile phone in that discreet ‘Delhi real estate broker’ fashion. I didn’t even have to sit next to him and pretend to browse my phone.
After some generic banter about life and family they began to swap work stories. But then he dropped that topic. “It’s just a job yaar. How much will I worry? Let us talk about something more substantial please.” And they smoothly segued into a heated discussion about someone called Ajnara Le Garden.
What a refreshing viewpoint on work life, is it not?
Since then I’ve been thinking about why more people don’t have such an indifferent approach to their jobs. To me it seems like a fairly healthy approach to have. Mind you, I am not saying that you should do a shoddy job. Not at all. One must sell and market and design and code and audit and auction coal blocks to the best of one’s abilities.
But once you step out of work it seems like a good thing to let go and get on with the rest of your work life. Few people, I suspect, manage to do this. I certainly don’t. (As I write this I am already thinking of what gifts companies will send me this Diwali. Did I say gifts? I mean ‘review samples’.)
I think there are multiple drivers for this persistent mental space we give to our jobs.
The most fundamental, I think, is the way the idea of work is sold to us in our formative years. Look at some of the job ads that are targeted at young people. They don’t sell jobs. They sell you entire lifestyles.
Look, for instance, at the career section on the Infosys website. The section is titled “All About You”. And it says that at Infosys a job is not merely a job. “It’s a journey. An experience. There’s so much to explore here— even about yourself—that every day is a new day…”
You could set most of it to uplifting music. Maybe they already have.
The problem with this kind of packaging is that it obfuscates the essential transactional nature of most organized employment. Companies need people to stay in business. People need cash to enjoy their lives. Right there you have the basis of a good working relationship.
Thing is most jobs are actually pretty boring. Yes, even yours. And most people wouldn’t touch these jobs with a barge pole if it wasn’t for the rewards involved. I can’t think of anybody who’d bolt wheels onto a car all day for the emotional satisfaction of doing this.
Companies know this well. And try to dress up this reality with emotion and sentiments. People like you and me fall for this hook, line and sinker. Now we want jobs that will liberate us, empower us, help us rediscover ourselves, and make us feel awesome.
Later when we realize that all most jobs do is make us a little richer, a little fatter and a lot crabbier, we vent at friends and family in coffee shops and airports. And we feel miserable. Why, you wonder, why do I not feel the ‘awesome’ I was promised?
Perhaps one secret to work-life balance is a certain detachment. A realization that your relationship with your employer is not as emotional as you think it is. That the main purpose of a job is to fund the remaining 15 or 16 hours of your day.
And that true awesome is to be found in those hours. Maybe. You should try it. I don’t care. Whatever...
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama