The fine art of quitting a job

I came across this excellent post on career consultant Rowan Manahan’s blog, Fortify your Oasis, talking about the right way to quit a job. Especially in the urban boom that we are having in India, it is all too tempting to just kick your job aside and walk out carelessly as soon as you get a better one. While this may have no impact in the short term, careers are built not on the basis of one job, but also by relationships built over time. A person who just kicks aside his or her last company, is unlikely to form great relationships with people who matter. How then should one quit a job?

The Indirect Manager

Very often at interviews, one of the questions that interviewers ask is about the size of team that one has handled. “How many people reported to youin your last position?”. For many managerial positions, it is important that the person is able to work effectively with a team, hence this question, to check evidence of competence in this area.

But, another skill which is less easy to gauge with a direct question is how well a person works, with people who don’t have any sort of subordinate position to oneself. I believe that this if often a tougher challenge than dealing with one’s own team. When you have a team reporting to you, very often, you share the same goals, the same bigger picture. In a good situation, the team works together and often also shares a good personal rapport that makes work easier. In cases where there are conflicts, the boss can use his or her authority to sort things out. Or even discipline a team member where needed.

None of these luxuries are available when dealing with people on a lateral basis. They come from different departments, which often don’t share the same goal. Infact their goals may be diametrically opposed to yours. In a classic scenario, finance may be only looking at the current bottomline, while the salesperson wishes to offer a discount to hold on to a long term prospect. You don’t have any means of enforcing a decision since they don’t report to you. If something is really critical, it may mean getting top management to bear down on them, which may get the work done, but leaves behind even messier relationships.

All these challenges apply to most managers. But especially to those working in nodal functions, who must get everyone’s work to flow together into one tangible and high quality end. In many cases, these people may not even have a team themselves, or a very large team. Their importance to the company then, is gauged not by the number of people they command, but by the number of people they persuade to move towards common goals. I’ve noticed that for functions like these, it helps to maintain a good rapport across divisions and be non-political in nature. Also to be inclusive and make people understand how their interests are being served by working together. Above all, dollops of patience when things move interminably slowly!

Workplace Ugliness

In a tragic incident, Shylaja Praveen, an employee of ING Vysya Bank in Bangalore committed suicide, with the alleged cause being the sexual harassment that she faced at the workplace. While the complete details are not available, it appears that Shylaja had repeatedly complained to the authorities at work as well as taken her case to the Karnataka State Women’s Commission, only to receive no concrete help. .

Tragic as the situation is, it perhaps throws light on some ugly things in our society, beyond Shylaja’s fate itself. Atleast as far as urban India is concerned, and especially in sectors like financial services, we are living in a fairly buoyant job market. If Shylaja felt that the harassment was intolerable, and she could not fight against it anymore, it is not clear why she did not look out for another job. (Note, I am not advocating that the onus of moving away lies on the victim, simply that it seems to be a better solution than killing oneself). If she chose to kill herself instead, one can imagine the anguish that the harassment must have caused her, perhaps compounded by the knowledge that she could not do anything about it. It also shows what a stigma harassment is on the victim. In a fair society, it would be the harasser who would have to hide his head in shame. In our society, it is the victim who feels ashamed.

This young woman, had the courage to take up the case and go up to her superiors as well as the state women’s organization. And for having the courage to speak out, in a situation where these things are often hushed out, she pretty much got nothing for her pains. Is it any wonder that the majority of cases never even come to light. The case also shows how these complaints are handled. The State Women’s Commission says it asked her to go speak to her superiors. But why could they not have checked with the organization whether there was a mechanism in place, and being followed, to address such complaints? Now ofcourse, they claim that the organization has no so such mechanism in place, while the company on the other hand has issued the standard diplomatic speak about having policies in place.

Theoretically, India has fairly strong laws in place against workplace harassment.
This article provides an excellent overview of how the ‘Vishakha Guidelines’ came about, and what mechanisms they prescribe for addressing sexual harassment at work.

As the article mentions, the Vishakha Guidelines clearly state that, It is the duty of the employer to:

– Prevent sexual harassment
– Provide mechanisms for the resolution of complaints
All women who draw a regular salary, receive an honorarium, or work in a voluntary capacity in the government, private sector or unorganised sector come under the purview of these guidelines.

Unfortunately, organizations mostly honour these in the breach. While Shylaja’s end was terrible, I hope cases like these will atleast motivate companies to take such issues more seriously.

Update: It seems as though evidence in the case has been tampered with – a suicide note left by Shylaja as well as sms messages sent by Bharath (the alleged harasser) to her. The police are obviously not revealing all the details, how they came to know this, for instance, but it seems logical that someone who killed herself due to harassment would want to point a finger at the culprit. The absence of a note is therefore puzzling, I guess.

Great Reading…

I have a really fun interview coming up in a day or two on the Entrepreneur Watch series, but I am travelling at the moment. So until I get to uploading that, can I direct you to the really large Carnival of HR over at Three Star Leadership, for some excellent reading?

HR Carnival Shoutout!

For all those interested in workplace dynamics, business or even just in managing people better, the fortnightly Carnival of HR has some great reading. This time, its up at the Compensation Force blog, where it covers among other things responding to racist humour in the workplace, why companies keep jerks around, and my favourite, how to respond to that killer interview question, ‘What are your weaknesses?’

Happy Reading!

Working Solo

In the last 2 months, I’ve moved jobs and into a very different role with a start-up firm. Since I am the only employee in my city right now, it doesn’t make sense to invest in office space as yet, so I have a Home Office. While working from home is comfortable in a number of ways, its also thrown up some challenges for me.

One thing I miss is the hum of office chatter and being able to pop over to a friendly colleague’s desk for a word now and then. While, at work, I used to sometimes crib about the non-stop talking that some folks could do, when you are working all on your own, you realise how much you get used to having people around. Ofcourse, technology has made remote working possible, and using chat, I do stay in touch with my colleagues 350 kms away. Plus. I pop down to Chennai where they work, once in a while, and ensure that I meet atleast a few clients a week. That way, I don’t end up completely isolated. Still, it takes a bit of getting used to, from just turning around and bumping into colleagues whenever one fancies.

Then, its not just that I am working from home, but also that I’ve moved to a start-up, where things are much more unstructured. The good thing is that there is so much more to do, there is tremendous flexibility, no bureaucracy, and an opportunity to shape the business, not just be another employee. The bad news is that it takes tremendous self-discipline to work in an organized manner and get things done, when there is no one looking over your shoulder. Again, it takes some getting used to. I consider myself a pretty efficient worker who can get things done. But now, I don’t just have to do things efficiently, I also need to do a good amount of deciding what things should be done. This ofcourse involves changing one’s mindset to think more in terms of the overall business, than just one’s portfolio or allotted tasks. But it also helps to convert broad plans into smaller steps, and put them down somewhere in specific terms.

Working from home also means a lot of interruptions. When relatives land up, some (wrongly) assume that I am working from home, in order to “take care” of home. So while I try to set fairly defined timings for myself, there will be someone knocking on the door and asking where the garam masala is, while I am on a client call. Or the lady on the road selling keerai (greens) wants to know if I would like to buy some. Or I myself am tempted to snooze for half an hour or watch TV. After all, the bedroom is just 10 steps away! This is probably the toughest bit – facing interruptions from self and others! Others, I try to ward off by keeping my office door closed or not answering the door unless its someone expected. Thankfully, I have a separate study that has been coverted into an office. The self interruption bit is harder to combat!

Its early days yet, but on the whole, I think working independently suits me. I am the type who handles authority very poorly, especially when its orders don’t make sense to me. I can’t do something just because I am told to. So working with a start-up firm and really being able to contribute meaningfully, is something I am enjoying. I am also hoping that the second-hand-entrepreneurial experience will come in handy when I eventually start something of my own. In that sense, working on my own will probably prepare me for such challenges. It would be great to hear from anyone else who’s been through a similar experience.

Preferential Treatment in the Workplace?

Recently, Shefaly at the Indian Economy Blog, had a piece on the need for Indian workplaces to become more inclusive of disabled people as employees. I wrote in a slightly tangential comment, that,

…The issue is really how to make our institutions more inclusive. For this, I think the first thing is attitude to be inclusive. Unfortunately, we are still in a situation, where in certain jobs, for eg, I have seen managers decide that they won’t even interview women, having decided that “women can’t travel”, for instance.

So inclusivity for disabled people is still a long way off…

To which, Shefaly replied with a remark –

..But this sort of special treatment can work both ways. When I worked in India, and travelled often, I was allowed to stay in hotels beyond my level’s entitlement simply because the organisation did not want any responsibility for my ’safety’ resulting from my being a woman and my entitlement being an unrealistically cheap hotel of some sort in several cities in India. I share this here with the full cognizance that the ’special’ treatment upset my male colleagues as well as the fact that although it was not right, I managed to negotiate it and well that is business, is it not? But at least I did not have to fight for the job!

Now this set me thinking. As a feminist, can I really demand any special treatment at all in the workplace? Doesn’t equal mean the same? We, in this generation, are really sitting on the shoulders of countless women who fought the battle before us – the battle to be allowed to study, to work, to choose your partner. So in a sense, educated, reasonably affluent urban women like me have it relatively better off because of those who suffered before us. Is it not letting them down now if we demand special treatment? That was my first reaction.

I more or less feel like this. Except. I also started thinking of other points of view.

Women’s entry into the workplace itself is only 50 years or so old. (By workplace, I mean organized workplace, not to discount in any way the generations of women who have worked on farms and so on). In some industries, probably only 20-30 years old. The rules then, were framed for a different generation where the default worker was male. These rules have over generations become institutionalised in workplaces across industries. Take the issue of transfers. Why did companies at one point of time, transfer employees at whim all over the country every 2-3 years? The policy was formulated assuming a male audience who could move their families with them at any time, wives largely staying at home. If you look at private companies atleast today, transfers are much rarer, and almost always discussed/negotiated. So the first issue is, that while I am uncomfortable with women asking for exceptions to rules, in many cases, the rules themselves are the rules of a man’s world. They are not the rules that an egalitarian world would have framed.

Then, I started thinking more specifically about Shefaly’s case, and wondered – why is it that the company feels obliged to ensure the safety of its female employees, and not as much in the case of men? Isn’t it strange – after all, much of the corporate world has been male, shouldn’t it lookout for men as well? Its not as simple as that. Rather, it is in a way related to the notion of a woman’s value being tied up with her “honour”. If one looks at it realistically, a man travelling on his own may be slightly better able to defend himself against an assailant when compared to a woman. (Though this is increasingly not true, as women become more athletic, more well built with better nutrition.) Even if we assume that, what chance does a man on his own have against a group of muggers? About the same as a woman?

The difference ofcourse is that men are not raped, while women are. And while companies may not exactly phrase it like that or even consciously evaluate it , thats the crux of extending better protection to women. It also acts as a deterrent against employing women – Jobs that involve frequent travel are sometimes quietly closed to women for this reason. In a utopian world ofcourse, (or in a more litigation loving society than India), employers would need to extend protection to everyone, or face huge penalties if employees were hurt in the course of doing their jobs, be it men or women.

In the meanwhile, while I would be uncomfortable asking for any differential treatment, I wouldn’t blame anyone who did so, in cases where issues of safety are involved. The workplace ofcourse doesn’t afford men this privilege, though inversely, it allows them greater opportunity. Like most things, unless men too see the payoffs in changing the rules of the game, I believe that there will continue to be confusion and resentment over issues like these.