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Self-help with schadenfreude

Self-help with schadenfreude
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First Published: Fri, Sep 09 2011. 10 56 PM IST
Updated: Fri, Sep 09 2011. 10 56 PM IST
One of the first things I do on Friday mornings before sitting down to write this column, but obviously after 250 bicycle crunches and scrambled tofu for breakfast, is to browse through the latest headlines from the world of office culture, office politics and the associated academic research.
Yes. Research. You will be astonished at how many people all over the world are investigating the various elements of office life: relationships, emotions, technology, gender diversity, multi-culturalism and, of course, shudder, leadership and innovation.
For instance, just recently I read a study from Tel Aviv University which found that working in an unfriendly or hostile work environment can significantly reduce your life expectancy. The researchers followed a group of some 820 people—from a varied list of professions—over 20 years carefully recording their physical and mental states. Apparently, the people who worked in unsupportive environments were 2.4 times as likely to die during that period as the ones who lived in nice pleasant ones.
This study explains every librarian I have ever met in my life. They all seem grey, wise, composed, at least 100 years old, and at complete spiritual harmony with their zen. Or i-ching. Or feng shui. What possible office politics can be there in a library?
Librarian 1: “Who put this book on great Indian fast bowlers in the sci-fi and fantasy section!”
Librarian 2 quite obviously lying: “I have no idea. Must be one of those horrid readers.”
Librarian 1: “Ok.”
Librarian 3: “Guys... I think a couple is making out in the comparative religions aisle...”
But in addition to just news and research, there is one more type of cubicle life article you see on the web: the dreaded self-help, motivational, “call-to-action” type piece.
(Pauses typing to let the skin stop crawling.)
Often this gets bolted onto a research study like the one I mentioned above. For instance, this Tel Aviv study will lead to predictable headlines:
1. How to bring the cheer back into your office: ten ways
2. The power of positive thinking at work
3. Suit up, calm down, stay alive.
4. Zionist propagandists must die in the flames of hell
Now some of you are wondering how I can criticize other workplace advice-givers when I sometimes do the same myself. To you I have to say: Please don’t politicize this column.
My biggest problem with these articles is that they are almost always positive: How to be nice to so and so. How to rebuff rudeness with politeness. How to work your way to the top with honesty.
What nonsense.
Life in the cubicle is brutal. It is dog eat dog. It is push and shove. It is each man/woman for himself/herself. Recently, the CEO of a tech company got unceremoniously fired on the phone. A full 15% of her subsequent communication with journalists and co-workers comprised one word that starts with F, rhymes with Schmuck, and means “attempt to propagate the species”.
Instead, I would like to see more realistic self-help articles for the workplace.
‘How to remotely format a laptop without the administrator’s password’ would be excellent reading.
Also, why do we never see a piece on the many joys of office schadenfreude?
Along with BMW, Franz Beckenbauer, and beer mugs the size of LPG gas cylinders, the Germans have also given us the wonderful concept that is ‘schadenfreude’, or ‘great joy at other people’s misfortunes’.
I cannot think of an emotional concept that is more suited to the workplace. Indeed, many a time I have persisted with a terrible co-worker only in the hope that at some point in the near future he/she will blunder massively and get fired with immediate effect. Of course, you feel bad for the family of the co-worker concerned. You are a human being after all.
But can anything describe that feeling of sheer joy when you walk into the office and see that empty desk, silent intercom and lifeless computer?
Allow me to share my greatest moment of schadenfreude with you.
A few years ago, driven to desperation by minimal journalistic income, I briefly considered joining a prominent international insurance company. (I was seeking other professions with similarly loose morals.)
Eventually, I was interviewed by the CEO of the Indian operations, a dour, grave man with pomposity of 3D IMAX proportions. I told him I hated reporting to tyrannical superiors who treated underlings like brainless idiots. I sought a more collaborative chap.
He laughed and told me that he expected underlings to do exactly as he commanded. There was no need for collaboration. He would do the thinking for me. I should shut up and act. That was the end of that.
Much later, the company blew up into tiny pieces during the Lehman crisis. I laughed and laughed and laughed till my editor threw a stapler at me.
Schadenfreude is excellent. I hope more cubiclists adopt this wholeheartedly.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life.Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Sep 09 2011. 10 56 PM IST