Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Employers & Employment...

Edit: Sandy's comment made me add this disclaimer:
This post shouldn't be interpreted in absolute terms. It is meant to highlight the pitfalls of corporate life and has therefore, deliberately ignored the good about organizations. If you're looking for good, scroll down to the beginning of this blog.

Having held 9 jobs in 10 years, in different industries, and different kinds of companies, one can safely say that I am now a semi-expert on "employers".
And with the absolute roller-coaster of a ride it has been, I believe I am qualified enough to comment on the pitfalls of corporate life.
So here goes:

Step 1: NEVER EVER work for a small firm if you can help it! By & large they are owned & run by people who have no training or education in man-management, HR, corporate law etc. etc.
This means you risk working in the corporate equivalent of a dictatorship. For example, if you have a problem with your manager, who do you go to? Your boss often owns the damn company! There is often no HR to intervene! And even if there is, they're not going to risk upsetting the boss!

No experience in corporate law sometimes translates into a total disregard for the law; meaning you work for a company that is potentially low on ethics and is therefore open to sales tax raids, other kinds of scrutiny etc.

Risky proposition either way.

AND... If you're a management graduate, who has studied what they have often not, it's very frustrating to work for people who don't understand where you're coming from.

Step 2: Stick by what you believe in. Don't let your bosses or managers influence you against something you hold dear. They have what you want, you look up to them for guidance, yes...; by all means be open to feedback, but if they say something that something inside you finds it difficult to digest, however often it is said, don't buy it. If you're not at the start of your career, always remember: You got here by doing what you do best. By all means pick up new skills; but don't for God's sake drop the old ones because someone higher in the Org structure tells you that you need to change! This is a twisted one, so I'll expand on this one in a separate post sometime.

Step 3: Despite their exhortations, always remember, companies are NOT family! They are not friends either! They are employers. And you're extremely lucky if you find a good one!
Family & friends will not stab you in the back. Organizations do & employers if they need a fall guy will! I have learnt from my experience as I have mentioned before.
But let me not ask you to just go by that. Let me give you another example.
A friend of mine was once in trouble over some overtime issues. Most BPO companies do not take pains to educate their managers on the legal limits of overtime. He wasn't educated about it either, so unbeknownst he slipped up. Now his company was worried about being audited & found lacking. They had to show that they'd taken some action against the person who broke the law. So they went after this friend of mine! Luckily, he had me! I told him to ask his company whether he'd been offered his position on the basis of a degree in labour law. Also why after his hiring had they not spent time training him in the important legal aspects of the job? His company of course had no answers. I also asked him to tell them that he would not only take the company to court if they took any action against him, but also that he'd go to the press with the story! That was it. He hasn't heard anything on the matter after that.
The other thing I've warned him about is that he needs to watch his back now that he's messed up their egos. But I think he's learnt how to handle them now.
Lesson: Remember to treat a job as just that. It's just a job. It's not the beginning or the end of the world! There are many more where those came from! (Thank God for these times & may he bless the likes of Manmohan Singh & Rajiv Gandhi!) It's not your family, it's not your life, it's only a job! And they're just your current employers, and they're not indispensable!

Step 4: Companies today are wondering why they're losing people so fast. It's really simple actually. It's not about more opportunities existing today, the money being better in another company, other companies poaching your talent. It's about the 3 points I mentioned above.
It's about living the values you boast of (in hiring ads & induction sessions) as a company! You can't issue broad statements like "We're a family" & then summarily terminate the employment of your family members!
These are pitfalls a company must learn to avoid. Among the others that I am going to mention.

Jobs earlier were more relaxed. You spent 8-9 hours in an office, you worked 5-6 out of those. You spent time chatting up colleagues at the water coolers, took a long luxurious lunch sometimes. Work was a walk in the park.
Then came the days of increased productivity. Technology could now keep tabs on what you did with your time in the office. You were being watched & punished. Work became more stressful. Not that companies didn't do business earlier. It's just that competition intensified & in order to survive the company wanted more productivity per employee. If you couldn't give more productivity, you had to settle for less pay/no promotions/no job. You had to sacrifice ambition if you wanted a less stressful life. Of course, the company couldn't sacrifice it's market share ambitions!

So here we are today: Highly stressful jobs, personal ambition, lack of work-life balance. To make matters worse, employers are insensitive & tell you to your face that:
Job security is a thing of the past!
And then they wonder why they have high rates of attrition!!!

So here's my modern management maxim to that:
Employee Loyalty is a thing of the past!

Much as that will hurt brick & mortar relics of the past, it is the truth. And the only way it will change if these relics managing companies wake up to this fact!


Sandy said...

Good one there :-) But I disagree on two points:

a) I don't think there's too much of a problem working in a small company because you grow faster there, the visibility is better, you have a free rein to control things and you can always make the switch anyway

b) I don't think employees should stop being loyal to their company or their jobs. Being loyal just means doing what it takes as an employee to make the firm and your department and yourself benefit. Everyone have their own degree of loyalty anyway.

1conoclast said...

Thanks sandy...

You're welcome to disagree. I'd be more worried if you didn't, if you get my drift!!!

1conoclast said...

Another thing Sandy...

Just realised that we differ because we're approaching this differently. My post was focused around dealing with the pitfalls to watch out for.

sanjukta said...

Like you said Blogging soul mate.. this post inspired me to write one.. I wrote when i hit the published button got DC and lost the dont have the enthu..

For me, Loyalty is not so much of problem but its my principle and honesty that makes me quit jobs frequently...

[This is the third attempt to get that damn visual verification right]
Working for small firms are ok I guess so long the company is growing.. I have learnt a lot on my first job which was a new company but was growing...but no wait..there's a diff between new and small.. yeah you r right..small ones are no good...

rest later... will write that post also...

Sanjukta said...

Huh after all that hardwork...comment moderation enabled.. :-| I don't like commenting on blogs where comments are moderated..

1conoclast said...

Thanks Sanjukta.

Will look forward to your post.

Sorry about the comment moderation. Deterrent for mad mullah's, sanjay's etc...! ;-)

J P Joshi said...

A very interesting read. I have some points though. I worked for most of my working life with the Indian Air Force, and it was one big family. Also, nobody could fire you. The organisation was very good to us and we were loyal to the organisation, and the country.

There are pros and cons about working for a small company - what you say is mostly true though.

Companies are not family - not true for all companies. I work for Blue Dart and every employee swears by the company here. When I went around the company on my induction, I was shocked at the level of commitment of the people. Once a Blue Darter, always a Blue Darter as the saying goes - and it is true. Of course the credit for all this goes to Clyde Cooper, an Anglo Indian gentleman who started this company based on family values and hard work and dedication - a very good leader, a man with a vision and a motivator too - i still hear these stories about him from old employees - he sold the company two years ago. In addition to insurance and medical benefits the company has a scheme where-in on the death of any employee, every employee in the company contributes one day's salary to the family of the deceased. This is voluntary and you sign in on joining the company. Thereafter this happens automatically through the payroll, and employees are intimated by email. These are small but tangible things that build loyalty at Blue Dart.

Values are fast changing in India - we are becoming more like the West. Everyone wants to rise fast, wants more cash, live at the leading edge - well, all this comes at a price. Employees job hop, companies fire to stay competitive and loyalty, which is a two way street, is the scape goat. Companies generally will not fire their good and loyal employees, unless the chips are down - they also know that it is very difficult to find good employees. I am not sure about the BPO environment in India though.

Finally it all depends on the leadership of the company, and what are the core values that the company lives by. Companies are made up of people finally.

I do believe that loyalty is the most important long term asset of any employee. This does not mean that you cannot leave the company. All it implies is that you deliver what you promise in terms of quality, quantity and duration (daily, and for the period of employment until the last day).

1conoclast said...

Mr. Joshi,

I agree with you on all counts.

Some companies do make a sincere attempt to be family. Like the Air Force & Toyota you mentioned, and like the Infosys I worked for in the past. The extent of success of course depends almost entirely on your immediate boss & their boss. If you vertical is screwed, the organization can try it's damnest, the philosophy doesn't filter down well enough. Partly of course employees are to blame for not taking on the establishment fearlessly. That comes with some experience. Right?

You're right also about the values bit. We've become more consumerist & have therefore sacrificed quality of life at the alter of more money/MNC workstyles etc. Our fault again! But we were sold to relentlessly by our bosses! Can't blame a youngster for being ambitious & misguided easily.


Like I said before, I'm just very glad to have found like-minded folk. :-)