A close friend, corporate warrior and a thoroughly committed employee of a renowned private bank is currently spending hours looking at his mobile phone nervously. I ran into him earlier this week and we had a very grave, sombre dinner at a restaurant. All through the evening he kept fidgeting with his email-enabled mobile phone.
He’d feign interest in the conversation for a few minutes, then suddenly go wide-eyed as his phone vibrated. Nervous clicking of buttons would follow, before he looked relieved, and set down the phone. Five minutes later, he’d go through this cycle again.
Initially I thought I knew exactly what was happening. The nervous fidgeting, constant phone checking and momentary moments of relief are all classic symptoms of a modern phenomenon: too much Twitter.
But then I gradually realized that one critical symptom was missing. My friend wasn’t occasionally interrupting conversation to proudly share his wisecracks:
“Ha! Somebody on Twitter wanted to know the best place in Delhi to eat a Mysore masala dosa. And I just tweeted: ‘Definitely not in the Metro. Because food is banned inside!’ Too humorous no! This will get retweeted thousands of times and give me a heightened sense of achievement.”
But in fact, my friend was in a permanent state of panic because he was waiting to hear about his final appraisal scores from human resources.
He explained: “A 5 on 5 is just not possible for more than one employee per year. A 4 could mean a promotion. But a score of 3 or below is definite termination. I am just not strong enough to deal with that.”
Why not, I asked. He is a smart fellow. He actually likes wearing ties. You don’t get people like that these days. And besides he could always find a new employer in no time.
“This is not a feather-filled mattress of innocence like your newspaper. If I get a 3 they will give me one of those quit-with-grace or be kicked-out-like-a-dog ultimatums.”
Quit with grace? Be kicked out like a dog?
He told me what happened in 2009.
After his appraisals last year my friend had scored between a 4 and 5. This meant his job was safe and a promotion was due. “They duped me by creating a new grade between my existing E-7A and the next E-7B and then promoting me to E-7A-E (for Enhanced). But I felt happy and satisfied.”
Anyone with less than a 2 were taken to a back room, near the stores department, and lined up against a wall to be shot.
But true intrigue was in store for those with scores between a 3 and 2. These outcasts were informed that their services were no longer required. They could do one of two things: Either resign of their own accord, or, hang around defiantly and be handed termination letters “for under-performance”.
As all of you already know, being terminated by a company is considered severe anathema in India. It is the professional work experience equivalent of being manglik. And unlike mangliks you can’t even overcome this problem by working for a tree for a few days.
“So many of the well-behaved types quietly put in their papers and left. But then there were some troublemakers, the employees who whine and argue about everything, who refused to quit. They demanded to be terminated. I tried advising them. But they just wouldn’t listen.”
One year later, he told me, those whiners are still waiting for their termination letters. HR never issued any and now it looks unlikely that they ever will. Indeed, some of them have already been appraised again a year later. Some might even get promoted this year.
My friend’s problem was this: “If I end up getting less than a 3… I don’t know what I will do. I don’t think I have what it takes to revolt and demand to be terminated. I am too much of a nice guy. What do I do?”
As a friend who truly cares, I have asked him to pose this question on Twitter.
But what do you do when workplace policy is skewed in favour of employees who do exactly what nice, ideal employees are not supposed to? What to do if the only way to survive in the workplace is to complain, whine, irritate, rebel and permanently exist in a state of vocal dissatisfaction?
The nice guys, meanwhile, Google for resignation letter templates.
Nothing reminds one of this dichotomy more than interacting with the guys in the IT department. Find an employee who interacts with IT in a humane, friendly manner. And you will find someone using a Windows 95 computer and hoarding floppy disks. One of my old bosses always made it a point to scream at at least one IT guy everyday before lunch. “Just in case I need an anti-virus upgrade or a new UPS.”
Does this mean that being a bad ass is the only way to thrive at work? Is kindness a professional burden?
How do you cope? And what should my tense friend do? Tell. Send email. Meanwhile I need a new USB drive and have to set fire to one server at a time till I am issued one.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org