Jul 14, 2008 - published work    No Comments

Work is a four letter word

Something that was published in Dawn, they gave it a different title but I liked mine better so here it is. It is actually a longer version of a previous blog.


The recent idleness in my life, the unintended vacation I was on, made my days long and nights extended and I started pining for — yes, of all things — workplace insanity.

I longed for the days when I was surrounded by colleagues who felt no compunction in stealing my lunch from the office refrigerator, the inveterate gossip-monger who would say something to me and then go to the other person with the same statement using my name. The insecure boss who hides his incompetence by putting down my degree as inconsequential (if you have a foreign degree and your boss does not, you would get as much of an opportunity of growth as a one-legged man would in a kicking competition). In short, I was so bored with staying at home that I missed all the things I used to detest about my workplace.

Workplace dysfunction is definitely funny when you’re watching The Office, but it is serious business when you’re trying to cope with it every day. The biggest irritant at the workplace is the fact that the most degrading workplace tasks are the ones that are always put forward as being special.

Another sign of workplace dysfunction is getting labelled. If one is working in the corporate sector, one is either a YAWN (young wealthy but normal — the term reserved for people who despite earning insane amount of money live normally) or one half of Dinks (double income no kids — this is the kind that go for expensive vacations and usually have a 72-inch plasma TV). There are yuppies (young urban professionals) who wear sharp suits and drive fuel-guzzling vehicles; and last but not least, Bobo (Bohemian bourgeoisie) which include people like most of us who, although gainfully employed, have no sharp suits, no plasma TV and definitely no extra money lying around for expensive vacations.

Everyone has their fair share of weird co-workers; I just happen to get twice as lucky as most people on this planet. The amazing variety of people I have had the chance to work with is astounding. Who else can boast to have worked with just about every clichéd office character under the sun, ranging from the narcissistic-jerk-of-a-boss to the regular run-of-the-mill slacker, the office stud, the office tart, the gossip, the manipulator, the eater, the people-pleaser, butt-kisser, whiner, over-committed-company-man to… my personal favourite, the sarcastic un-committed slug.

We all have at least one ‘70-hour a week guy’. He lives, eats and probably sleeps at work. He’ll be in when you arrive and working still when you go home. He’s often in on the weekend and before you can say the word ‘bingo’, the management starts encouraging you to follow his example and sacrifice your personal life, provided you had one to begin with. The management would probably throw in the incentive of paying for every third angioplasty, if caused by workplace stress.

I have had the (dis)pleasure of working with this man who had a British-public-school-boy attitude, an illegal amount of (over) confidence and insane profundity in corporate speak. He would always rant about things like ‘high accuracy assessment’ and I would want to scream, “what the hell is that?” Does anyone really care if the assessment is highly accurate or just accurate? The terms I loathe most are ‘thinking outside the box,’ ‘paradigm shift,’ ‘synergy’ and ‘brainstorming,’ especially brainstorming. What do you think people do when they brainstorm? Nothing gets shaken up, no one sees the light. All people do is consume loads of tea and coffee and bitch about people who are not part of that particular brainstorming session.

I once had this co-worker who epitomised Protestant work ethics of 19th-century Americans (even the Americans have slackened down a bit since then). It was impossible to indulge in a bit of harmless normal workplace slacking such as surfing the internet, making a few personal phone calls or reading some newspaper in her presence. She would look at you, berating you for doing the sinful act of reading the newspaper at the workplace. If her workload is low, she would sit in her chair and do nothing — like staring at empty spaces or at her computer screen. I mean I am all for meaninglessness in life, I think it is very important, but staring at empty spaces does not match up when you can actually read about Britney Spears’s life online and feel good about yourself.

In most offices, people aspire to become managers (if they already aren’t). A manager’s designation is not high enough to be out of reach for most people, nor is it lowly enough to indicate lack of ambition. I became a manager two years into my professional life — soon after I abandoned my efforts at eking out a living with journalism — and was quite happy being the team leader. For those who don’t know how misleading this title is, let me tell you that my title as the team leader means that I report on the workload to higher-ups at meetings and make sure that my staff does not steal too much stationary, do not take too many tea breaks and report back to work after the long lunch and prayer breaks on Fridays.

Another very interesting part of working in a corporate setup is personal appraisals. As a team leader, I sat through the appraisals of my team. I had to be politically correct and come up with inventive ways to get my point across without stepping on any toes. When one had to come up with lines like ‘works well under constant supervision’ at times when all one wants to write ‘needs a rap on the knuckles every five minutes’ every year for over a dozen people, any delusions of creativity fly out of the window. At times, I have been tempted to blurt “I quit!”, pack my desk and be carried to the elevators by my admiring colleagues, but a scene of such dramatic bravado and career hara kiri is best left for Hollywood movies like Jerry Maguire (1996). I usually take leave of my employers with a resignation sent via email. I console myself with the fact that for most of us, work is just a four letter word.

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