A couple of nights ago, I had a chat with a much younger friend of mine who was going through his first career crisis. As we sat in a respectable watering hole in Saket, his face was drenched in sweat, his hands were shivering, and what felt like a phone permanently on vibrate somewhere in the cafe, turned out to be his beating heart.
“I don’t know what to do now, Sidin!” he said with exasperation in his voice. “I don’t know if I should bring this up at all with my HR. I am so confused! Is there anyone in your office who knows anything at all about office culture? Maybe a columnist?”
I had half a mind to tell him to “always be 100% honest with HR, air any and all complaints you may have instantly and preferably in public, immediately convey any thoughts of quitting, especially to join the competition, and make it a point to regularly discuss things like perpetual late-coming and stationery pilfering. For levity, make frequent jokes about disappearing during notice period”.
But then I let it pass. Kids today don’t read newspapers. If I asked him to name one thing that causes global warming, he’d probably say Lady Gaga.
So I told him to relax, convinced him to down a glass of lager, and asked what was bothering him.
“See the thing is, I am supposed to join the Hosur office on Monday. I fly into Bangalore early that morning and the plan is to directly go to office.”
“But the thing is, should I take a taxi from the airport?”
His question sounded pointless enough to be rhetorical. So I waited for him to continue. But he didn’t.
The taxi was his problem.
It appears that the fare for a taxi from the airport to his factory was some very large four-figure amount. His parents had convinced him that the office would pick up the tab. There might even be a driver at the airport waiting for him. But he wasn’t so sure.
So his parents asked him to email and ask his HR rep. He, however, was afraid this would make him look petty even before his first day. And he hardly had the liquidity to pay for the cab himself. (This was more “Extreme Outer Survivor Jungle Hosur Sector 128 Phase Q” than Hosur proper.)
And thus was his dilemma.
Now before you dismiss this problem outright, think back to your first days on your first job. Surely you had one of these dilemmas as well? Where you weren’t clear about some trivial thing, and then spent days over-thinking the heck out of it?
Is this gross or net? Is there a dress code? Or can I wear what the old man who interviewed me wore? Do they work on Saturdays? When they say 15 days temporary accommodation, does this include weekends? Does the company pay for my hotel laundry as well? Mini bar? Sauna? Thai spa?
Is this before or after tax? What if I don’t want PF? And does this mean *wink wink nudge nudge* medical bills or real medical bills?
And so on and so forth.
At the time, it seems as if our entire professional existence revolves around this. Our parents, but of course, expect us to enjoy every possible luxury. After all, his investment bank sends a chauffeur to pick up cousin Chandiramogun from La Guardia. Why should you take the bus?
Poor fresher. Now he has to figure out diplomatic ways of asking his HR about such details.
There are some youngsters who have no qualms about being upfront about such things. They are the go-getting types who will no doubt race ahead in lives. But many, including yours truly, are most bashful. (These will become columnists.)
What will HR think if I start nit-picking from Day 1?
So either you end up sounding like a greedy little P&L liability, or you end up coming across as a polite, low-maintenance fellow.
Many years later, when we are trying to explain how we got crores and millions mixed up in the Annual Report, all these problems seem trivial. Medical bills? Pfft. The office boy has a side business in receipt booklets.
But at that moment in our careers, when we are fresh and new and innocent, everything seems alien and consequential. We want to excel and grow. But also make a good impression. Most of all, we want to be liked.
I wish, though, that companies would make it easier for freshers. That they’d make some allowance for the naive fresh spirit, and explain things with as much clarity as possible.
No, you need to pay for your own taxi. This is the precise list of items of clothing allowed in office. You will be provided a laptop. Take one from that pile over there.
And so on.
As for my friend, I told him to send a carefully worded email to HR confirming his arrival and flight timings and casually asking what directions to give the taxi driver. If the reply has directions in it, then he must sell one of his iPods for the cab fare. And then buy a newspaper.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the 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