Saturday, May 15, 2010

What do you expect from your 9-5?

If you ask people why they have a job, I bet all of them will tell you the same thing - to earn a living lah! To earn money so they can pay their bills and live like normal human beings.

If only that were completely true.

Would you agree with me that in employment, most people find the journey more important than the destination? Money being the destination.

Let me explain. Does "I wouldn't mind earning a bit less as long as I don't have to work in this dump" ring a bell?

Or how about the friend that leaves a high-paying job and tells you, "Friend, its not about the money."

That's your journey talking to you more than you destination so there you go, the "I work for money" urban legend, busted.

Ok, maybe that's too strong a word because believe it or not, there are people out there who'll do anything for money. You've seen them. Seniors who've served the same company for 15 or 20 years. We joke that they can't get a job elsewhere, that's why they stay behind. Maybe, but its easy to forget that some people are actually less interested in self affirmation than we are. Maybe it is us who can't comprehend that simple world view where I do what you want, you pay me, we both happy.

I think many professionals, seniors included, lie to themselves when they seek employment. They tell themselves "I'm in this for money" when the truth is, even money won't stop them from leaving due to wounded pride, insufficient recognition, differences in opinon. That's self affirmation talking. You go in thinking about money but subconsciouly expect another. Isn't it any wonder why workplace dissatisfaction never ends?

If the journey matters a lot to you, this is my advice. Choose your playing fields carefully. Stay away from "chinaman" companies. You know what I mean. Not Chinese people per se but companies where control is jealously centralized, the owners are super-calculative and the only thing they will spend on is sales. Also, stay away from family-owned companies because no matter what you do, its doubtful you can beat the favorite niece or nephew to that plum position. (Oh have I got a story to tell on that one.)

If journey is important, go to structured companies. Those that can rationalize their decisions openly without looking like they're bullshitting. Those that'll show you past evidence of balanced priorities. The latter is especially important if they want you to come in and "develop" one new area or another. I speak from experience on that one.

Be honest about what you want because if you talk as if money's your only calling but you're secretly building mental castles, then be prepared for years of ulcers and white hair ahead.

Feeling so fed up with your job you're ready to bail and take any offer that comes along?

Stop. I highly recommend you write down "Out of the frying pan into the fire" on a piece of paper and spend a good 3 minutes staring at it before you commit the unreversible.

I know what you're going to say. You can take anything. Anything but this, right?

Yes the situation may be bad and you have every right to be upset but please allow me to say this. There's a good reason why someone coined the phrase, "The grass is not always greener on the other side."

Before you throw in that letter, do yourself a favour. Go outside, walk around the block. Divert your mind to the things around you. The sky, the grass, the sounds. Take emergency leave if you have to. Go catch a movie, hang out with friends, sleep over it. You've had this job for years so what's a day or two off?

If after that couple of days you are still determined to go, then you can go with a clear conscience. Its perfectly okay to go if the problems are truly irreconcilable but before you go, please don't forget that one last critical step before you tender. Its something you might regret for the rest of your life if you didn't.

Read the termination clause in your employment contract one last time.

Check for old forgotten clauses you might inadvertently trigger by resigning, like the bond they made you sign when they sent you for overseas training. I know of one case where an employee was slapped with a demand to pay back RM 100,000 in compensation, a bond he had overlooked in his haste to resign. He was earning less than RM5,000 a month. Instead of enjoying freedom, he suffered a mental breakdown and had to be briefly hospitalized.

A general note.

There's no guarantee the rot in your company won't turn around suddenly. Your boss might resign, be transferred or get fired.

There's no guarantee the new company you're joining won't turn into the mental asylum that you're leaving. You have no idea what's going on behind the scenes.

The only thing that can be guaranteed is change so when you say, "I can take anything but this," please remember this: the corporate world is filled with people who wish they can take back what they said.

Time is your best ally in moments like this. Take your time. Never make a life-changing decision when you're emo no matter how tempting. If after deliberating through everything and you're still certain its time to go, then go. Sometimes, a well-thought move may be the best decision you ever made in your career.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A revival

This blog idea came about from the culmination of events in the last 2 weeks where I found myself giving advice to the son of a friend who was under seige at work. And I thought I escaped it all, ha ha. But that exchange gave me a reason to write my experiences down while they are still fresh in my mind; from an employee and a boss's point of view. Who knows, someone might actually find some of this stuff useful to fend off the wolves in the concrete jungle.

First, a bit about me. I took voluntary retirement after having spent nearly 30 years in the corporate workforce where my first job was to sell products from a paper mill. Over the years my work took me to quite a few countries around the world. It included a long phase in my life where my home was the airports and Starbucks was my kitchen. Been through just about every configuration of business you can imagine, from a 2-man show operating from a hole in the wall to a multinational with 200 people reporting to me, and styles of management from convent-like saintliness to something that resembled a mental asylum.

I confess I don't know everything. All I can share is what I saw, what I personally experienced and what I did to handle (or mishandle) them. You be the judge of whether they apply to your situation and if you've seen better ways to handle them, please share.

Welcome to the 27th Floor.