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Photo: ThinkStock

Cubiclenama | Of inefficiencies and ineptitude

Earlier, workplace was much more forgiving. Muddling along is no longer an option for the vast majority of cubiclists

In the fast paced world of the modern workplace it is becoming increasingly harder for mediocre people with little ambition and no substantial career goals. Never before in human history—barring instances of brutal slave labour used to build most of the world’s Unesco heritage sites—has the workplace subject its inhabitants to such relentlessly high standards of effort and output.

BlackBerry CEO? Fired. Acer CEO? Stepped down. Editor of Chennai-based newspaper of literary merit? Now full-time Twitter user.

How things have changed.

Merely cast your mind back to the Indian workplace just 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, why not do this exercise: Put down this newspaper and look around at any family elders lurking nearby feeding the plants or watering the dog.

Please pick up this paper now. Now ruminate upon the fact that many of them retired as very senior officials in large companies of national and international repute. Yet some of these very same people are today actively in negotiations with Microsoft in order to secure the $17 million that they recently won as prize money in the Bill Gates Extravaganza Lottery 2013 as communicated to them by email from microsoftlotterydepartment@hotmail.com. When you tell them that it is a scam, they counter: “But he has written it himself on his official letterhead beta... Aise professional log jhoot nahi bolte..."

How did these people become finance directors, vice-presidents, regional general managers and joint secretaries? Socialism only explains part of this situation.

Simple. They are from an era in which the workplace was much more forgiving.

In 2013, this is no longer the case. Muddling along is no longer an option for the vast majority of cubiclists.

Unless... Unless they can somehow convince a workplace columnist to share with them tried and tested ways of surreptitiously muddling along in the 21st century workplace without actually doing anything substantial or, most importantly, getting fired.

Ok fine. If you insist.

Now the one important thing to keep mind is: do not get fired. This is the cornerstone of the Malingerer’s Playbook. Nothing you do must in any way lead to termination, suspension, dismissal or any such punitive action. The trick is to camouflage your utter lack of effort or productivity with frenzied, earnest inactivity.

For instance, one technique popular among malingerers is known as “Onus reversal" or “onussing". This is when you take a freshly assigned task, contort it out of shape, and then send it back to the original assigner for “clarification", thereby putting the onus on them for any progress. (Thus the name.) Do this repeatedly and you can stay task free for long periods of time. For instance:

Editor: Sidin, can you write a quick piece for me on the fiscal deficit situation?

Sidin: No problem boss. Do you want this to be data-led, or more of an analysis piece with opinion?

Editor: I think we should go with a strong opinion piece.

Sidin: Do you have any links to similar pieces I can use for guidance?

Editor: Sure. Will send you some after lunch.

Four hours later:

Editor: Sidin where is my piece we are going to press urgently!

Sidin: But you didn’t send me those links!

Editor: Dammit. Forgot. I will do this myself now.

Sidin: Are you sure... I feel terrible editor!

Editor: No it is ok, not your fault.

Sidin to himself: Onussed it like anything.

Notice how the malingerer has not only shirked work, but also come out of it with no ill-will or ill-repute. Masterful. There is an advanced level of “onussing" whereby the malingerer not only bounces back the work but later follows up on the bounced work with the original assigner. But this is only for advanced users with several years of work experience.

Another proven technique for malingering is “overunderworking". At first glance this might seem as an oxymoron such as “Congress working committee" or “Microsoft Excel". But it is a legitimate strategy. The trick is to take on several easy assignments from a variety of superiors. And then whenever anybody asks for something tell them you were too busy with someday else’s task. Once in a while don’t forget to prolong your scam by finishing a task and replacing it with another simple one.

The exact inverse of this is another strategy called “underoverworking". Here you take on only one task. But do it so thoroughly and with so much diligence that it takes forever. For instance:

Boss: Hey Sachin and Rohit, how are we on that market estimate for online bus ticket booking?

Sachin: I have finished mine! Take it!

Rohit: So far I have completed Palaghat and Jalgaon districts. I will need some more time in order to create a truly meritorious report...

Boss: Very good Rohit, you continue with your attention to detail and take as long as you need. Sachin I want you to start on a new report...

It is tempting to appreciate Sachin for his promptness, but notice how in the long run Rohit is the one who is proving to be the better player of the game.

These are three useful strategies for all readers. There is no reason why all of us cannot enjoy the same inefficiencies and ineptitude that generations before us have luxuriated in.

Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at cubiclenama@livemint.com. To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama

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