Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother writing this column. Every week I reach into the depths of the average cubicle-dweller’s soul, dredge through the detritus and disappointments that dwell in the dreary darkness, and emerge, somehow, with stories of hope and joy and optimism.
And what do you do? Ignore everything.
Earlier this week I ran into a frequent reader of this column.
Therefore, she really had no excuse whatsoever for the situation she currently finds herself in.
After ordering our respective coffees, we settled into a cafe and began to chat. So, I asked her eager to find column topics, how is work and all? (Most of my friends are neurotics with hideous work lives.)
Usually, in my experience, people don’t like to say that they hate their jobs outright. Instead they shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes, moan a little or just drop their face into their hands and sob. They say things like “it goes on yaar” or “same old same old” or “work is work Sidin” or “I should have never agreed to become Prime Minister in 2009” and so on.
My friend was not so…indirect. “I hate my job,” she said with terrible finality. “I hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it.” Then she gulped down a mouthful of scalding hot coffee, too numb to feel the pain.
Only the most severely dysfunctional cubicle life can lead to such misery.
I whipped out my notebook and pencil. Tell me, I said in my best therapist voice, tell me all about this hatred.
A litany of troubles poured forth. First of all my friend worked in a team that was treated with contempt in her organization, a major financial services conglomerate. Her team functioned as some kind of an internal auditing and compliance watchdog. They were loathed deeply and broadly.
Second, she worked for an utterly unassertive boss. Petrified of commitment and conflict, he was a complete pushover. He simply didn’t stand up for his people.
Third, she was unhappy with her pay. Two years in a row now the company had promised a raise, and then reneged on the promise.
Finally, she felt she fully deserved a promotion. But again the company had tried to deflect all discussions.
To summarize, she hated what she did, who she did it for, who she did it with, and why she was doing it for.
“Quit!”, I screamed at her like a French general. “Quit! Quit! Quit! Go take your talents elsewhere. Why subject yourself to this misery?”
After all hadn’t she read this column for years? How many times have we asked cubiclists to draw the line when it comes to the punishment they take at work? There is no honour in dishonour.
And then she said all the wrong things and made me very very upset. No, she was not looking for a new job. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
Because this year again the company had promised to look at revising her pay.
Also this year the company has promised to “build a set of metrics that will allow a mid-year re-evaluation of her performance that could potentially lead to a promotion.”
Also several people had quit her team recently and maybe this would force the company to listen to her plight.
So she had decided to give her company another six to nine months to reward her in some way before she “began to think about planning to prepare to look for a new job”.
I somehow controlled the urge to knock her over the head with the little bowl of brown sugar, and tried to put things in perspective.
First of all why was she letting her career stagnate? Why was she letting her company, one verily prone to vacillation, determine her actions?
Instead, why not update her resume and start talking to people? Why not get a lay of the land? Figure out what salaries and jobs are on the market? This will help her to both ascertain her own worth and her chances of a new job. (It will also distract her from her cubicle miseries.)
As I spoke she began to break out into a cold sweat: “But there is so much uncertainty in all this. What if I get a bad job?”
Ah, but nobody is asking her to change jobs. Just talk to people. Initiate dialogue. Meanwhile, her current employer gets time to make up their minds about rewarding her.
It took that meeting and several phone calls afterwards just to convince her to clear out the cobwebs from her resume and give it a fresh lick of paint. Just yesterday she called me to say that she’d begun getting calls from head-hunters. She is still very, very nervous.
But all said and done, mission accomplished.
Her problem, when you really think about it, isn’t her bad job. But her fear of change. And her comfortable inertia.
I say shake things up a bit now and then. Don’t let insouciant companies revel in your fear.
But what is the point! It is not like anybody listens to anything this column has to say. Sigh.
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