The sentimental romantic era, when the new joining employee was made to feel that it is going to be an association till ‘death do us part’, is, if not entirely over, or is at least close to dying. From company to grave is no more a catchy slogan, either for the employee or the employer. This cliché is dead.
Actually, lifetime employment theory was borrowed by the West from the orient, particularly Japan, which in later years was replicated with greater finesse by Korea and China. The very thought of seeking alternative employment by any employee working in, say a car assembling plant in Japan, was considered blasphemous &and sacrilegious. A ---tart and being a criminal, to have considered the option to leave and join a different organisation. Those who tried to and ventured into the employment market were labeled as ‘corporate traitors’.
The much trumpeted and also fairly acclaimed, “decade of development” in Pakistan, during the sixties, saw the emergence of the “22 Families”, a coinage that is usually credited to late Dr Mahbub ul Haq, one of the finest economists, game theorist, and international development theorists Pakistan has ever had. During this period the ‘lifelong employment" concept took roots in the local corporate sector. The well-established business families practiced this element of the Japanese art of management extremely judiciously with only a handful doing so with the intent of exploitation. Employees were not only well-treated and respected they were also given position of responsibility in various organisations.
It helped create a great sense of ownership by the employees, which obviously went in favour of the employer. This attitude of both parties took a nosedive, with the demise of East Pakistan and the birth of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s socialist policies of popularity. It saw the end of the power and influence of the 22 families that either shut their shops down and emigrated or splintered into smaller groups to avoid future “visibility”.
In the past two-three decades, the influence of the corporate practices of multinational companies (MNCs) from across the Atlantic, saw the emergence of ‘lean and mean’ approach, in the conduct of business, “you are hired to be fired”, became the mantra and slogan of not just of entrepreneurs (owners) but also of the “professional (!) management” of various organisations.
Consequently the employees have had to take a backseat. To save their jobs they now yield to pressure of unreasonable demands of achievement. They live a life that is rife with stress and above all they have to juggle to harmonise the work-life balance. To make matters worse, if the employee/manager suffers from some complex and is an individual with strange idiosyncrasies, life at office can only be more miserable. If by now, any of my dear reader, has developed a thought, that this piece is representative of his/her particular situation, then all this scribe says is you brought it upon yourself!
Every employee must have the assurance of a cover job in the market place of equal rank, status, and benefits. This is not to suggest, disloyalty of any sort, but it is meant to create self-comfort, that there is no such thing as “ultimate” in life and that there is “life-after”, beyond the present organisation. This feel actually creates more confidence in individuals and such tend to perform far superior than those who think this is the best they could get.
Having served long part of my career in Hong Kong, I learnt very quickly that my team composition would keep on changing with rapidity. The society and culture, there, demands that one “must” change jobs, at least after every three years. Failure to do so is an indication that the individual has no market. My colleagues then used to call it the “three year itch” - once three years are completed at a company, a new job has to be found, to remain valid and relevant as a “ to be had” employee. Lack of change is akin to losing face and loss of face is synonymous with suicide, in the far and North East Asia.
An employee must keep reminding himself the Churchillian wisdom, that graveyards are full of indispensables, the going away of the best of employees would not bring down the organisation. Indeed there may be few hiccups, but then vacuum is filled with equal speed.
Destiny favors the brave, but it is not to suggest that there has to be inaction to demonstrate bravery. If the employee’s quest of job is to just put bread on the table then it is very likely he has pledged his life and career to the employer. While such category of employees may succeed with his limited objective, they generally remain, devoid of spiritual and emotional satisfaction. The job does not give it to them, so they seek it elsewhere. Although for the largest Muslim population of Pakistan, work is considered to be an ‘act of worship”, at least as part of belief system, if not for real followership to the concept.
The late sitting culture is just one more manner of conveyance of absolute loyalty to the owner/organisation. This is done blatantly each day by employees, although there is no co-relation between long hours at work and productivity. In view of this scribe all office-goers at best productively work about 3-4 hours in the daily grind of 10-12 hours at the office. The rest is taken up in meaningless meetings, the obviously ridiculous huddles and impromptu convergence into the board room to discuss the most flimsiest of subjects/issues.
A nephew of mine surprised me with a comment that the education system of the last six decades, both at college and university level was directed towards production of “good employees”, there is so little effort, he feels, in the cultivation and promotion of entrepreneurial spirit, at the under-grad or university education level. The education system has only moved from creating ‘armies of clerks’ to ‘armies of managers’, but both categories get classified in the domain of the “employee circus”. There is no serious effort from the academia to nurture the cause of entrepreneurship. The universities offering programs on the development of entrepreneurship are far and few.
An intelligent employee will make sure to assess on a periodic basis, what value is he/she to the organisation they belong to? Even the best talented are laid aside because they can't keep their relevance to the entity and also due to the fact they are taken for granted -long serving employees face this dilemma, most often.
Slavery to do things in a certain manner over long periods of time also contributes to the employees’ inability to seek newer markets. The fear of unknown, backed by the fear of change, is the sight of most formidable impediment in pursuit of ambitions. Employees get into a paralytic inertia of not trying anything new, consequently the current work place looks to be the best in the world … while a lot of good may actually be residing outside of the institution.
Employers tend to follow Russian army’s dictum, "I am the boss, you are an idiot, you are the boss, I am the idiot". A worker must ask himself for identifying what are the reasons, he works for? Power, pelf, money, statue or what? If, it is money and power, then most likely the employee will subjugate himself to the “boss”, who is either the owner or the manger. The quest in such circumstances will be to become the blue-eyed boy/girl of the boss. Such relationships have no lasting value.
Both the employers and employees must come to terms with the vital development of job-hopping. Lifetime employment is no more fashionable, if anything, it is considered by many societies as degradation of self value. As said earlier, job hunting in Hong Kong and the Far East is not looked down upon. In fact, it is the other way round. The man who doesn’t search for alternatives is considered an aberration. The London Economist in one of its Surveys contended that an average 32 years’ old American, has already worked for nine organisations. The time spent at each job is drifting speedily.
There is no disloyalty in keeping fresh and updated curriculum vitae on your laptop. Even if you don’t hop the job, it is good to assess your marketability. Employees shouldn’t surreptitiously approach for interviews, hiding your intent to move on is a sign of cowardice. Tell your supervisor why you are hunting in the market? Each employee will have a different reason to do so. It is not sacrilegious to apply and seek for newer and better opportunities. If loyalty (however misinterpreted the aspect is) is not on the charts, when the employer prepares his list of people to be fired, then there is no reason for any employee to keep it on his list of the reasons of why he is at the place, he is!!
The present era is one of the severest competitions. The best are always few and perennially remain in short supply. Hence, the idea of this piece is not to create an upheaval in the minds of the readers, to drop present jobs and start fishing in the market; the purpose is to encourage the employee category professionals to recognise their true value and potential. There is actually no need to take non-sense from anybody in life. So why should the employer/organisation be an exception.
On a closing note, let me define corporate loyalty. It is certainly not about clinging to institution --- it is not about transition from being the known productive member to being the parasite. It is not about being a doormat to your boss. It is certainly not about acquiring status of a yes-man/woman. All the foregoing elements are meant to camouflage by the employee his/her own mind and thinking to justify to him/herself the corporate slavery or at least pretend consciously its non-existence.
Loyalty is to never badmouth your organisation or colleagues, once you have left it. Doing otherwise is akin to being the donkey that prides to kick a dead lion.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist