Reflections of an employee
An office is a theatre. A theatre works on the peripheries of seemingness and beingness. The beauty of the TV Show "The Office" is that it plays well with the elements of seemingness and beingness at a workspace. We are amused by what we miss and the similarities keep us glued.
I am between jobs now and thought it was time for a reflection.
A disclaimer, the content you are about to read is personal. It does not intend to harm anyone, especially my past employers. It is based on my experiences.
- The company is profit driven entity
As long as you are profitable, you are good. It should not come as a surprise. Companies are here to make money. Everything they do will be to preserve the interests of profit and of those who run them. Layoffs, Hiring freezes, Budget cuts, Company parties, promotions etc, are instituted to serve the interests of profit and some purpose. This makes salespeople are celebrities and get a lot of praise. They keep the cash coming. Also, the company will often make more money from you than you make from them.
- The HR works for the side that pays them
Human Resources are meant to help the humans in the company work in an orderly way. They make sure any disruptions are avoided. No unions are formed. No one strikes. They try to do their best for the interests of the company. They make sure the operating costs are in check by hiring at proper salaries.
- Workspace is a social theatre
All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. — W. Shakespeare
A workspace is no different. Some people are seemingly nice and some are real. We have to spend a lot of time with someone to understand who someone is. Remote work makes it hard. But knowing is fundamental to trust. Trust is fundamental to collaboration. Collaboration leads to great work.
- Be cautious about emotional attachments with the company and others
“Love your job but don’t love your company because you may not know when your company stops loving you.” — APJ Abdul Kalam
We love the people we work with, some love the jobs they do. But many times, we tend to be overly attached to the company we work with, especially if we immigrated to work in the company. The workmates are the only people you know on the entire continent. It is quite human to develop deep attachments for emotional survival. This emotional attachment tends to be problematic when making tough decisions like quitting or asking for promotions.
- Working hard does not always bring "hard-working benefits"
What leads to "hard-working benefits" varies from company to company. As long as it is not the work that brings in results/new ideas/earnings, it should not be considered hard work. People would say they are working quite hard on the project and present it in a convoluted way so people think it is hard. It is just what is appreciated in a given company culture. It is a popular comic reflection of the workspace.
- This is not your company. This is not your home
It is the goal of the management to make you believe it is your company. This makes the employees feel safe. They can be motivated to work. But the truth behind this "Neo-liberalist" idea is that it leads to the creation of what Byung Chul Han calls a self-exploiting individual. If the company says it is your company, ask them for ESOPs, Profit sharing, or least of all, a permanent contract with health insurance.
- The boss's role is to make sure work gets done
I would just let Slavoj Žižek explain this.
Please take Žižek's enthusiasm with a grain of salt. This is the social role of the boss. Most bosses are not like that. I am grateful to have been blessed with great bosses who have helped me, mentored me, and nurtured me. .
- Flat hierarchy is not usually flat
Flat hierarchy is a highly cultural concept that keeps getting exported to highly hierarchical cultures as a company perk. In cultures that are not direct communicators, flat hierarchies do not seem to work. In turn, it becomes a means to fictionalise power that you may not have. It is essential to understand this difference as it affects how power flows. Healthy power flow is required for great work to be done as it affects decision making.
- You are 'mostly' replaceable
Yes, it is true. I know it hurts. Most skill sets are replaceable. I think, this idea gives me more energy to keep improving and learning new things while keeping in mind that one day, the situation can change and go south. Please treat this like what stoics called Memento Mori but inside the company work context. A nice explanation is provided here.
- Learn and grow for yourself. Ask for it
Where I am coming to is that a job is a transaction. My fantastic boss, Alberto, talked about it in my last job.
You work a promised amount in a domain you show expertise and the company needs that. The company then pays you for your time and offers a safe way to practise. Sometimes in a country you may not have legal rights to be in. Both sides are contractually bound. That is it. Hence, you should learn and grow and do what is in your best interests while staying within these contractual obligations. Demand things from the company required for your personal growth and exploration. They can always say no!
I have been in this position of not asking. I am trying to change that. On a funny note, an advertisement from India that explains it well. The central message is "पूछने में क्या जाता है" or "What is the harm in asking"
- Try not to work on something that you do not believe morally in
One of my elders would say, "Do not do something that you cannot tell your children about". So, if your work as a designer involves making people addicts, encouraging kids have more sugar or helping the gambling industry with dark patterns. It is a great moment to reflect if that is what design should do. Design gives designers superpowers, often of 'tasteful manipulation'. Design is a job, but then design can help bring social change.
- Leave if you do not feel comfortable, respected, and your time valued
In my experience and Plato's view, comfort, respect, and time are the three baseline conditions to excellent work. I feel you should try to negotiate these as much as possible.
- Help your superiors help you
Many times you would want something to improve your work and you think that it is unreasonable to ask for it. You may try it and your boss may not have any idea how to get it. It happened to me when I was applying for a work visa in Spain. My company had never hired someone who is non-European in Europe. I knew they would probably not go out figuring it by themselves. So, I asked a few friends around and got a good lawyer to help my company hire me. Sometimes, people are too busy to put any extra effort. You have to put some effort into them to create favourable working conditions for you.
- Most people are good people
Yes! Most people are good people. They are there to help you and support you. They can be unreasonable sometimes, but everyone has a bad day. There is always Hanlon's razor.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
I am grateful to have met many people with my work who have been great friends even after I stopped working with them.
- Do not trust leaders who use fear to drive teams
Some companies use fear as the key driver for work. "We will go bankrupt soon if you do not sell. " Fear is a bad motivator, especially for anxious people. Managers and owners should not pass their fear to teams, rather they should be rational about fear and help the employees work suitably by being transparent about what is going on. No manager should transfer his stress to the team. One good way is owning up to their blunders and acting to correct them. It is not always possible due to the theatre and power dynamics.
Hope it helps. Cheers, Rohit