By Dr. Dayal Mirchandani
The sanest way to deal with hassles at work is to divorce one’s self-image from one’s job and from the perks it provides
In the last few years I’ve been noticing a new phenomenon. Both men and women approach me for help after suffering, after being grievously wounded at work. What is different about these people is that it is as if they were in deep denial about the new realities of the workplace and how it could affect them. Many of them had invested their whole self into work and defined themselves through it.
There is no doubt that the nature of work has changed. Lifetime employment is now a thing of the past. People are being laid off jobs or offered voluntary retirement schemes or simply eased out by promoting subordinates over them. Those who do not make efforts to please the boss or ignore office politics are the most vulnerable, as are those whose performance is poor or whose cost to the company is high since organisations are becoming cost and performance conscious.
Another phenomenon is becoming more evident: many companies prefer to promote young executives, as they believe that they alone have the stamina and ability to work long hours for extended periods of time. This has meant that young high performers are promoted over people who have loyally served and helped the company grow over the years.
Dilip, an advertising executive in his early 50s, came to see me as he could not concentrate on work and was feeling upset. What emerged was that recently a young MBA in his 30s had been promoted over him and he was asked to report to this hotshot, who had once worked under him. Dilip felt betrayed that he had not been consulted about this or offered the promotion. When he spoke to his boss about what he’d done for the company in the past, he was told that they were looking to the future now.
Dilip had tried finding another job but discovered there was no market for someone his age. Getting up each day and going to work had become painful and once at office, he would spend hours idling and drinking coffee. He told me that he could leave since the company was offering a generous VRS (voluntary retirement scheme). His main concern was his identity; he felt no one would take him seriously or give him due respect if unemployed. He said: ‘‘When I think of leaving I feel as though my very identity has been taken away. Besides, what will I do with my time?’’
Dilip further observed: ‘‘I never thought it would happen to me. I’ve always felt this was something that happens to others.’’ He went on to say how he regarded his company as a family that would look after him and felt really let down. On reflection he realised this sense of family was a myth, carefully nurtured by the HR department through workshops, company parties, picnics and even a gym where employees exercised together. Those that the company let go were offered psychotherapy and the services of an outplacement consultant to create as few ripples in those who stayed. The fact remained that many more employees were being quietly removed than ever before.
In therapy, Dilip resolved to leave, whatever the cost, and to start his own consulting firm helping advertisers save money on their ad budgets. Many of his old clients hired him when he showed them how much money he could save them. He says: ‘‘My ex-boss must be really ruing the day he let me go as I’ve helped my clients negotiate better deals or shifted them to superior agencies. The irony is that today my ex-boss calls on me during his sales calls! As for me, I have much more time for the family and even manage to play a few rounds of golf.’’
Given the new realities I’ve noticed that many, like Dilip, have an ostrich-like attitude towards their careers. They haven’t adapted to the reality of the new corporate cultures where people are treated like commodities, where there are no guarantees of employment or promotion on the basis of the work one has earlier done. Of crucial importance is what you can generate for the company in terms of profit. This is especially true in situations where technology is making humans obsolete.
The sanest way to deal with this is to divorce one’s self-image from one’s job and from the perks it provides. This is no easy task and often takes many weeks or months of struggle to achieve. More important, it is necessary to become aware that a job is not the only way to achieve one’s need for identity and a sense of aliveness. As the psychotherapist Dr Ilene Philipson who runs recovery groups for corporate executives says: ‘‘Putting all of one’s eggs in one basket-investing in one sphere of life to the exclusion of all others-diminishes what a human being can be and portends emotional devastation if that one sphere fails.’’
The second crucial change one needs to make is to see oneself as a consultant in a competitive marketplace with a need to provide increasing value. One also needs to continually upgrade skills to secure one’s position through continuous learning.
It is also crucial that you be aware of the management practices of your organization. If you find that they are oppressive or that you are genuinely being unfairly dealt with and can in no way change this, look for opportunities with an organization whose culture is more equitable. Loyalty is a two-way street. As Dilip philosophically observed: ‘‘I never really noticed when others were being laid off until my turn came…I was really foolish to expect otherwise and to cede my emotional well-being to an agency whose only focus had become profit.’’
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