Corona Diaries 45: If Organisations Had Hearts, The Job Crisis Would Be More Bearable
If carrom boards could tell tales, the one at this office would speak volumes. Around its glistening edges flourished a mini industry of gossip — the oxygen of office life and the most significant among its non-core indulgences. Over rounds and rounds of beverage, hours of aiming at the holes and unending addition of fresh spice to old gossip, foes and friends were clearly marked, personal equations re-revised and careers made or unmade.
This would not sound so unusual to those familiar with the unintentionally comical dimension of interpersonal dynamics in workplaces. But in this case, it was different. The boss, the usual target of underlying malice, led the show. The carrom board was his office. From here flowed power, and malice. As friendly matches began, sycophancy went to bizarre, often hilarious, extremes. The opponents never ever won. The reasoning: ‘How can we allow the boss to lose?’ The hangers-on wildly cheered everytime he holed a coin, and even when he failed to. “The way he releases the striker is sheer poetry, an act of genius, what follows is immaterial,” explained one.
The man at the centre of the excitement showed no sign of irritation if he found the competitive praise going too far. He, in fact, loved it. “Probably his mother passed away early. So he is soaking in all the love and false praise he missed. The scoundrels around ensure he never runs short of stock,” was the wry observation of a clearly unimpressed colleague. He is learning to be more careful with words after getting a nasty appraisal.
A mute observer to all such antics, the board sits idle, sad and forlorn these days. The boss is invisible, so are his lackeys. It misses their vacuous talk and vicious plots. Probably it misses the cuss words of the left-out gang too, and that of the perennial in-house whiners and doomsayers. Witness to a myriad alliances and dalliances, budding romances and nasty break-ups, fights over spoils of credit and patch ups, and the general highs and lows that office life involves, it has little to record now.
If it indeed could tell stories, it would consume all time slots. Because office was parallel life for most employees. The hours spent here had more drama and excitement than life with families.
It office operates with skeletal staff these days, the rest works from home. Missing is the usual buzz as conversation and interaction are guarded. Masks and sanitizers keep reminding people of degrees of separation they need to maintain. The in-house canteen and the coffee vending machine are non-operational. Those who evince some interest in the board, resist a game fearing contamination. Added to the ambience of cheerlessness in the news of drastic staff pruning by the organisation. Many wouldn’t come back to the carrom board again. Jobless now, it can only reflect on the vagaries of jobs and the idiosyncratic human character.
WHITE COLLAR WOES
These are terrible days for professionals. India may be staring at a loss of 130 million jobs due to the pandemic, says a survey. A significant chunk of this would be white-collar ones, particularly in the services sector. The number may vary from survey to survey but the bleak reality is clear to all. The first wave of the ongoing crisis hit the blue collar segment hard, the second would cause bloodbath in the segment in higher salary brackets. In progress stealthily at present, it would be full-blown once the pandemic blow passes and companies press the reboot button with financial constraints weighing heavy on their minds, say experts.
India has been in this situation earlier, once at the beginning of the millennium and the second during the recession of 2008-09, but never were sectors across the economy hit simultaneously as it is now. Full recovery would take time. By then good old professional days would be past for a generation.
THAT DREADED CALL
Uneasy nights follow uneasy days for the regular office-goers as they wait for that dreaded call from the HR. The company has decided to discontinue your service in view of the ongoing financial crisis — the line is akin to a death warrant. This is in simple words saying ‘You are fired’. And it is justified through the respectable sounding officialese ‘staff rationalisation’.
Of course, companies won’t have blood on their hands. So the targetted employees are asked — read forced — to resign, ‘for personal reasons’. This, they insist, would keep the employee’s track record clean and facilitate his/her entry into the next job. This is a threat couched in words of concern. It is like handing a gun over to a person and compelling him to shoot himself. The blame of his death now rests squarely on him.
Those still hanging on to their jobs have to contend with massive salary cut, in some cases as much as 50 per cent. ‘Be happy that you still have your job. The organisation has been magnanimous. Don’t even think of cribbing.’ That is the curt, unuttered message from the management. Employees have to grin and bear.
THE CASE FOR EMPATHY
As business entities, companies would not like to bleed to financial death. They need to draw the balance between jobs and profit to survive. So rationalisation has to be a continuous process. But in a time of crisis the empathy quotient separates a good organisation from a bad one. Some big ones in the country have been exemplary in their approach in the face of the ongoing crisis. They have assured the employees that they would stand by them come what may. Salaries would be less but not a single job would be lost.
Organisations surely can be more than crude, heartless machines that they appear to be. They only need to think and feel like the humans they are made of.