Thursday, March 23, 2017

Toxic people: How now brow cow?

I think there are plenty of articles that have covered toxic people at the workplace, written by professionals who have way more experience and exposure than I.

I'll take a stab at this not because I want to add to the merriment of advice that's already out there, but to draw analogies between personal lives and working environments that overlap and remind my future (and your) self when times seem bad.

My first encounter with a toxic environment was when I've just graduated from JC and took a temp job at Woodlands industrial park as a sales admin assistant. 3 months felt like 3 years and I wanted to quit every day but my mother insisted I stayed on. My mum has always been about tough love but on some sadistic scale, it made my bullshit for nonsense a lot higher (which was her goal anyway). It was later, when my organisational behaviour lecturer introduced this idea of a "toxic work environment" that I started to have a frame around the experiences I was feeling.

Toxic bosses
There are tons of literature about dealing with bosses that take score. Bosses that are unreasonable and unsympathetic. Bosses that seem not to care, or give appreciation to what you are doing. Bosses that are bossy, passive aggressive, or worse, vindictive. Plenty of people's push factors are often their immediate supervisor. For those head-strong subordinates, they leave their jobs in self-preservation. Others resemble women (and men) in emotionally and physically abusive relationships. The individuals internalise the discourse and abuse hurled at them. After a while, you believe that you're not good enough, and that no other employer out there would want you because you're "so lousy". The worst cases are when these abused employees that never leave and start the abuse themselves when they stay long enough to be promoted.

Workplace abuse is a boo-boo topic at any HR office and an uncomfortable situation to be in. I often have a 3 month-rule. If the employer continues to attack your work quality personally, have enough self-love to leave and start fresh in mind with another employer.

("you are a graduate and you can't even handle simple admin"..."I don't want to see your face, you annoy me."...or nonverbals like neglect with old shoulders when confronted with an urgent request)

Victims of abuse tend to follow a path dependency especially when over time, this type of partner is all they know how to love. So sometimes it helps to have a critixal checklist of questions to uncomfortably ask your prospective employer so as to protect yourself. It helps to voice out your experiences with workplace abuse. It's not a sign of weakness and any prospective employer who thinks that way will probably not be suitable for you. Voice it in a way that empowers (I refuse to be treated with no dignity, did you know he said...) rather than come across as a complaint (she gave me too much work, I had to work until 2am) because the latter doesn't show that you know what you're doing. So, if you list down the reasons for leaving in a list and many of them sound like petty complaints, you know perhaps you should revist your working style instead.

Toxic colleagues
I have 2 personal beliefs. One, never work with friends, and second, never mix work with the personal.

It's one thing to invite your colleagues to a wedding or party, but another to reveal personable traits such as your person judgement on certain issues (or worse, even other colleagues as that would just be gossiping). It's okay to share general views and another to express something like, "I think BDSM is cool and everyone should try it." I never cross the blood-brain barrier of work life and personal life.

For one, what happens if you DO gossip about others, what makes you think they won't turn on you? Perhaps your follow-up thought would be, they'd gossip about me anyway, why shouldn't I join in to ensure I don't keep tabs on them?

Come on lah, if people really want to speak badly about you, you wouldn't know it and even if you do - what do you intend to do? Follow up and confront them about it? Then whole thing falls apart and you're stuck with 0 "friends" and 0 trust from those around you; and have to walk away licking your wounds.

Keep your record clean, above board, partake not in the toxicity of this high school gossip shit, and just shrug away comments that come your way that are meant to fish for a response. Make it about work all the time; joke about work and maybe Trump, but never sink into the quicksand of unhealthy finger pointing and judgement. Toxic colleagues will want lure you into their world, like a band of druggies and their gossip is veil false security, an addiction, that makes you feel that you're in-the-know. I'd rather have no "friends" at work, than companions like these.

Ultimately, in time, toxic cliques and groupies will drive away good colleagues and what is left is a pile of bones that will eventually be discarded. I've seen it happen twice now, and favouritism will be the downfall of any management or business. By the time it happens, I'll be frolicking with some dolphins off the Australian coast.

Toxic clients
I find that Singapore generally have this "maid-mentality". What do I mean by this?

They think that just because they pay someone, they own and get to dictate when domestic helpers shit, eat and sleep. They expect them to go "beyond their jobscope" to also help you clean their backside. Some clients do this all the time - this unhealthy relationship is what drives many account servicing people out of their jobs and into a mental institution.

It wears any person down. One drink, two, and suddenly you're saddled with a health problem brought about by the many recesses of "the pressures in life".

Recite this: I do not deserve to suffer for the pains of others.

And walk away.

Simple as that, anger and malice requires a dance partner, let the chilling hurtful words slide from your back, don't ever let the water enter and fuel that deep dark place of doubt and insecurity.

Fuck it, fuck off, fuck them. Politely of course.

If people with money (money that isn't even theirs) cannot learn to be proper human beings, then they can jollywell learn. If the good stay silent, the evil will win. Hasn't the holocaust or any genocide taught us enough already?

It is not about war, it is to take an active role in making the world a better place by taking small steps.

Eventually, as long as any toxic client makes it personal, when you're losing sleep not because you can't bring in the deliverables for them but because they spite your very being, it's time to grow a backbone and escalate the matter. I have hope that decent bosses will see the issue as a negation to good business, and I have seen senior management manoeuvre such behaviour to their advantage by going to their bosses to ask for their people to tone down or else.

It's all about power, and not every client is powerful, and not every account servicing is a slave. Look at your organisation, the annual revenue, the major source of funds that pays your salary, and decide for yourself if you have to be subjected to this abuse. For the middling people like ourselves, escalate whatever issues and let the bigger players pull their agenda. You don't have to suffer or bitch about it.

In any case, the best way to neutralise any toxic, is a reagent. An alkali neutralises an acid, bonds untangle into harmless components of water and gas. Similarly, individual components are innocent in itself, but under the right conditions react together to cause harm. Adding water, or a dilution, only brings down the concentration but does not its latent potency. Don't feed toxicity by avoidance or feigned ignorance. Tackle it, subvert it, even if you are the smallest fish in the pond, in your own way, in your own style.

To all the lies, deceit and hidden insecurities - I'd say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Comfort zone: the ins and outs

My last entry, I wrote about being more forgiving with ourselves, to look into the paradoxical nature of our desires. It may seem counter productive that I write about the thirst for constant improvements.

About the same time as my last post, I had a deep chat with a good friend about the unlikeliness of our careers. We both didn't take the obvious route into teaching, civil service or similar functions given the long run of pattern in our department. We both consciously looked for external experiences, and now that we've left school for a couple of years, sort of discussed why.

"I was getting boxed in and comfortable, I had to get out."

I am not saying that teaching, civil service and jobs associated with these are boring, or part of an unchanging times. Indeed many of my classmates have travelled for work more often than I do, and the jobs they do are certainly meaningful and interesting.

For me personally, it was something so familar (almost my whole family is in the civil service), to learn anything new quickly, the easiest was to try new things.

...

Comfort, the home you return to after a long day, the warm shower that welcomes you into its embrace, the familiar smell of your sofa as you sink deeper into slumber.

...

I think zones of comfort are necessary to keep us sane, we all need a "break" and time to recoup ourselves. Doing familiar work might be the easiest way to remain productive and earn a living. Yet, once you are ready, a metamorphosis must begin, the butterfly must leave its cuccoon and like the eaglets that were forced out of its nest by their mother to fly or die, we need a kick off the cliff once in a while.

I think consequently on the other end, people relish in forever being challenged, and that becomes the only thing they know. They run too fast, forget that people behind need to catch up with you. They sprint for the finish line and are already eyeing the next race before the one they are on are over. This never-ending line of doing and challenging means a new equilibrium is created, the comfort zone becomes one that is in constant motion. The challenge is not the pursuit of growth, but to grow by understanding and come to terms with oneself in peace, solitude and recollection.

Regardless of your personal circumstances, as much as it is important to step out of the box, for some others, it's necessary to also return to it and take stock of your medals and legacy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Constant dissatisfaction

I wrote a term paper for Sociology of Food module, a literature review and analysis of obesity in "western" contexts, the obsession of body image and our relationship with food.

The conclusions after my review were still striking today as it were 4 years ago.

Paradox and being unfulfilled

The TL;DR version is this:

We have always obsessed over what we cannot have. In recent times, the abundance of food, the proliferation of multiple cuisines crossing borders and the sheer existence of choice in our modern day supermarkets, we choose to constrain ourselves. The woman or man who is fat, becomes a symbol of a lack of self control and ill-disciplined. All traits that are seen as negative and undesirable in the capitalist economy.

Ultimately, my point here is not to highlight that being fat has no real health concerns and dangers. It is to highlight the normative - the judgement if you will - of society on fat people.

In times of uncertain food supply, being plump is a sign of wealth and fortune across many cultures. Force feeding before marriages, getting fat on purpose just so that you "fit in" etc.

Using our relationship with food, I'm highlighting the paradoxical tendencies on our personal selves, and by extention the zeitgeist of our societies.

We want order when there's chaos, and anarchy when there's too much control. We want love when we're in lust, but fear commitment when we have given promises. We are unhappy when we are surrounded by fortunate circumstances, yet also think that earth is a living hell during times of war. We go under the knife to look beautiful, and yet scorn a beautiful (artificial) of being plastic and fake.

We are very unfulfilled creatures, and I am starting to wonder if we sometimes conflate "settling" with this insatiable appetite for perfection. The more we have, the more we crave. Is this why the Siddharttha became the Buddha?

We need to not be so hard on ourselves.

We live in one of the most peaceful times, and yet face the gravest issues pertaining to politics, economics and nature. Cynicism was always present in society, but never at such a scornful level that it is today.

I think history lessons and critical thinking caps are double edged knives. As much as we criticise, we also need to be more critical - including our critique of ourselves (I'm not good enough) and others (what a loser). We need to turn our critique on its own head and introspect that our internal dialogues are just that. I feel that we need to start from the stance that we are wrong until proven right. We must not fall into the trap of confirmation bias. Just because 5 people say you're lousy, doesn't mean you're entirely lousy. The 6th person around the street might dispel that confirmation bias and that is enough to tell yourself that you're not wholly shitty. You might be, granted, have areas of improvement but you are not a total loser.

We shape the way we see things, and thereafter, the choices we make. Which translates into the actions we take that defines the world.

You are enough =)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Project management/Juggling: Self-taught lessons

Apologies for the long hiatus, and certainly I've been meaning to write more regularly, including my epic 2 week Australia drive from Sydney to Adelaide. There's been a multitude of changes, including on the family front, that required my attention first.

Side note, I've been also trying to find something to write about. January and December has honestly been quite quiet months, that there just haven't been.

So yesterday, my friend and I had this chat about how she can't cope like, her more experienced colleague, with the multitude of projects that seem to keep coming. No app or software can help her keep track of the pace of things that demanded her attention. She asked me how I managed to cope (she calls me an octopus for my seeming ability to multitask) with it all.

I don't have any "guru" tips, but I can share my experience with "multitasking" and what goes in my mind. How to switch gears quickly and shift tracks as soon as possible.

First and foremost, practice. It was cliché back in 1990s - the number of times I've been told that practice makes perfect - by the time 2010 came, that good advice has taken a backseat for innovation, thinking out of the box. Nevertheless, you become good at projects or managing a multitude of tasks because you have been doing it for a long time. With exposure to different types of demands on our time, we hit hard lessons and from those lessons we learn and become more efficient. The people we see who are "gifted" simply have years, starting from childhood (piano, tuition, social life, homework....) to get better at it.

Well if you've missed the boat there, you can always start now, which brings me to my next point.

Vision. You must have vision of where you end-game is. If life is a map, and the demands on your time multiple checkpoints and your attention the toy soldiers you use to move around on that same map, you start to think of time and attention as very scarce resources right?

It's the same, with a sense of urgency, that arises from scarcity, we become very picky or at least not so yielding to all the demands from us. It's also important to know what we want, because like every story, it must end, and we take the position of a director where we must know where your work will end up after all this work. So use your imagination and visualise where you want to end up. It's the same for small company projections (get 5% uplift in sales of product X) or big life decisions (do I see myself growing old with this person? What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?).

Lastly, once you know where you want to go, what limited resources you have, you can then use the below pragmatic rules about juggling.

1. Task list or to-do-lists are crap (for me)

To-do lists makes you focus on linear progressions. It is great for homework but not so much for real-time stuff. In reality things move in parallel. By the time you finish your list, something has changed and you keep rewriting things over and over again but find yourself having no time to actually do them.

Instead, plan all your actions in a gantt chart, or for simplicity, I put them into my calendar ahead of time. It takes the worry off me that I'll forget something later and a nifty calendar alert 2 weeks before give me ample time to work on it. By blocking time, you also practice scarcity and force yourself to plan leisure in!

2. One feet in the pool, one feet on the grass

Always have an antennae permanently tuned to what's outside your 3m radius. Have one allegorical ear out for developments (or game-changing gossip "She's leaving!", "He's a new joiner and he'll be taking over this big client") that can potentially affect your work. Plan in your mind what options you have if it affects you. If you have no options and it affects you, at least you know you can't do anything about it and life carries on. No fret.

3. Allow new things to come in on a case-by-case basis.

Today got time for meeting? Let me check - see that the calendar has too much stuff, nope.

Today got time for CLIENT meeting? Let me check - new client worth 10 times more - YUP.

Reality is as such. Of course you don't have to go by monetary value, personal values come into play as well. Whichever scale you use, at least always have the right to say no when you are tapped out.

4. Stop being fucking nice

I used to be bristled by how some people are "rude" about their time. Just 5 minutes also cannot?

Yah, sometimes it's really cannot.

While I believe in rejecting people plainly and very politely, it doesn't mean you have to be nice by allowing people to trample on you. Bosses, colleagues or friends, be firm and polite. Being nice just gets you no sleep and poor performance.

5. Ditch the personal project management tool for some space to think

I have no qualms about.project management tools by the way, absolutely no reservations of a much needed system when you need to manage multinational projects.

In my style of working, those personal project management tools take up time to update, refresh and strike off. Personally for some of my friends it works - and if that's how you work by means go ahead. My point is don't force yourself to use something that doesn't feel natural.

Take time off to think and reflect on how you can work more efficiently, how do you make life easier for yourself. How do you increase capacity without increasing costs to yourself (time)?

These are just some of my WIP approaches to juggling in life, and like most humans I do fail from time to time. #notashamed As my best friend can attest, I actually suck at multitasking.

Just keep going and I hope this serves to help you in some way or another. In any case, like a wise aunty colleague once told me, "工作做不完的啦~" (Work is never-ending).

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rediscovery: lessons on G string



I have always had a phobia of performing on stage as a soloist, or being the focal point in an ensemble. Post-school, I chose to hide behind thick heavy curtains as a stage hand and later, a stage manager where the dark nooks and dim safety lights cuccooned. I would stand backstage applauding the actors who've worked so hard to bring the scripts to life, but also at the same time yearn with envy at their ability to delight and inspire.

I was determined to stand in the light again, and with that, to learn a new instrument. 

1 month of cello lessons have helped me rediscover parts of myself I didn't want to contend with. It really hit home one day while I was watching a particular episode of the Crown, where Churchill was having a heated exchange with his portraitist.

My teacher have said many times, astutely, that I want to be correct more times than I want to play music. In practicising one passage, I gradually realised that, in all irony, the more I forced the correct, the more it came out sounding awful. That is not to say proper bow strokes or posture is unimportant. It's the approach and the preoccupations of wanting to be correct all the time that distracts me from the sound I was correcting for. At the end of the day, I had to remind myself that everything is a work of progress and I have to be patient for muscle memory to form, for my body to become accustomed.

I have always been afraid of performing solo - because the task of being correct in music,where no 2 notes are the same - become too daunting a task for any conscious mind.

Art and character
In the episode of the Crown where Churchill, a prolific painter himself, criticised and insinuated that his portraitist had lesser experience and aptitude than he (lesser works a year, his lack of knowledge of pencil and paper types for a sketch). His portraitist, went back to do research on Churchill's numerous works. He returned and pointedly told Churchill that his painting constantly returned to the subject of his pond. He asked why Churchill was so engrossed with the pond. Churchill sees art as battle, to win over the subject matter as conquer. The pond with is dancing lights, was difficult to capture completely. The artist made a passing statement that the way he framed and painted the water, revealed that Churchill wanted people to see something that he feel people didn't see. It was calling for the viewer to see beneath the muddy surface for something. Something might not be there. Churchill was visibly struck, it was a quiet scene, yet resonated loudly under my shell.

In the context of an aging Churchill with his illustrious career, it was tragic, the denial of one's age and limits. The forced perspective of wanting others to see the greatness without also acknowledging the weaknesses.

Why do they say art is reflection, food and sustenance for the soul?

Is this why Einstein plays?

Is this how Bach felt when he composed his preludes, fugues, and many other concertos?

After years of knowing these statements from artists, I am beginning to embody the experience and understand why.

Both experiences brought tears to my heart and eyes. First, with immense sadness because after a long time, I am finally at the cusp of realising a deeper part of myself. To remind ourselves that life is more than just right and wrongs, more than the petty politics and power struggles. Empathy is a resource fast running out in this distracting world. Every day I play simple notes and yet I am reminded that while as a beginner we need to get the simple things right, but it is all about being able to feel between the notes. We underestimate the touch of sound, the vibrations that rock us within a concert or dance, that also exists between the tense pauses on stage.

I took a breath and pulled my first bow, ah! That full tenor of the G on the cello. Beyond technique, beyond correctness, we all need to be reminded that life is about fullness. Sound never lies. What I play, is a reflection of what is inside me - a scratchy distorted conflicted sound. There is no way I can play without releasing tension in both my mind and my body. No way I can feel the notes if I constantly berate my ineptitude. In time...in time...

Like Churchill's obsession with that pond, that forced perspective on his viewers to  my forced cello sound was born out of pride. Humility releases the soul in ways that is indescribable. Like theatre often theorises, when an audience laugh, it is because they feel uncomfortable, it is a visceral reflection and reminder of the shady parts of ourselves. When I played my cello, the sound is a direct manifestation of insecurity. Indeed the obsession with being correct, is a selfish endeavour. It emphasizes the player's self-absorption to be correct and the audience becomes alienated. It is masturbatory and fails engage nor does it serve to communicate. People become disenchanted when art is supposed to do just the opposite. 

If you are disengaged from any performance or art piece, when you also have all the lenses and grammar to read and interpret, it is fault of the artist.
I am afraid of performing because I am simultaneously afraid that people do not like me for who I am. I am scared shitless because we bare our souls, and run the risk that people do not like that part of us that was made public. I still have a long way to go, in accepting my own weaknesses as well as strengths. Like learning is a life-long skill, may this journey never end.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Email writing: some ideas to help




Recently, there has been a lot delicate ballet surrounding emails.
How do I reply an email from my boss that has Cc-ed the whole village for a decision that looks like I missed my work when in fact, s/he changed his/her decision?

How do I reply emails that compliment my work?

How do I reply emails when my colleagues are clearly throwing me under the bus?

How do you write a sensible reply to someone who is passive aggressive?
How do you reply your CEO who has dropped you work and skipped the entire chain of command?

I am constantly amused at how writing, despite advances in technology, still revolves around 3 principles - context, power and tone.

Human communication over text is a fascinating thing - the semiotics can be interpreted widely depending on our mood, or even time of day. We read what we want to hear. Literature and authors, like musicians, exploit this to create colour and suspense. Yet, in professional business writing, a "colourful" tone can be mis-interpreted as sarcastic or worst-still, offensive.

The worst part is, the more people jump on the bandwagon, the confirmation bias grows every stronger and it email becomes morphed into its own interpretation regardless of the author's original intention.

So here are my 3 humble thoughts about email writing based on my personal principles. I've learnt these skills from mistakes, as well as my bosses, for whom I am eternally grateful for pointing out these hesitancies.

1) Context - reading between the lines
So you wrote an email, and you expected it to go cordially. Before you know it, a harsh reply came back and you are fuming. You feel wronged. You feel that the other person is unreasonable. She's a bitch, he's a jerk. This problem compounds when that person is someone with power.

Instead of hitting "Reply All", it is perhaps easier to pick up the phone. Come forth from the position as a listening ear, hear why and what this person is trying to tell you. That anger might be completely misdirected, or someone else is trying to send an indirect message via you to your team or boss, who's conveniently cc-ed in there. If you are completely sure of your innocence, then you don't have to go on the defensive and start a shouting match. Let it go and reply pleasantly, more anger doesn't breed resolutions.

Listen, understand, rant a bit...and calm down.

Secondly, you receive a very cryptic email towards a potentially very awkward conclusion. You can't seem to figure out exactly what has happened and you are too embarrassed to ask. What then?

Context becomes extremely crucial in the environment where information is non-transparent. You could be a scape-goat in the making, or be unknowingly complicit to a whole scheme of things you'd rather not get involved. In this context, ask very awkward and difficult questions, escalate matters if this is out of your pay-scale. Clarify with the sender if this was a mistake, seek confirmation on the objectives and have that in email. When the context is not clear, being clear about what your unknowns might raise the right alarm bells. There are no stupid questions.

But there are stupid assumptions.

2) Power

One of my personal pet peeves, is people who write short curt and very accusatory emails that at once suggest very little in way of direction and also insist upon a multitude of things.
You know, those emails?

"I saw "X" this morning, what the hell are you people doing. Inserts sign off"
Or
"Insert Cc to entire team: Please activate this for Amy as discussed, why is this still not done."

The former is a poor email form that js outwardly demanding, with all the room in the world for the team to jump in and start pointing fingers.

The latter, is passive aggressive. It suggests the receipient is incompetent of following instructions or the person giving it has a point to prove on the earlier point.

While I personally don't agree with these forms of email, they are dis-empowering to the receivers - even if they are guilty of the act. But wait, you cry, what if that person is a repeat offender! What if they don't move unless I resort to such tactics.

I believe that dealing with difficult people require strategies. For now, assume you are innocent and you find yourself on the pointy end of the stick, how do we reply?

Firstly, do not wrestle back control. Do not fire off another email that is equally foreboding and petty. Secondly, write to clarify, not defend. Do not start by saying "you didn't tell me" or "Ernest failed to...", it will just make the endless witch-hunting even more tedious.

We don't want the Salem witch hunts, we want to resolve a problem.
So the key is to write what you do know, how it will be resolved, and what is preventing you from finding a conclusion. It may well be a lack of information, your boss forgot that 5min discussion in the pantry, etc. Confirm that discussion, seek clarity and with each onion layer you peel, the power balance tilts in your favour. Consider your positionality, and how much change you can effect over the organisation and adjust your content. The less power, the lesser explanations on email. We're not called to answer for problems beyond our pay-scale - unless the problem is you or your team.

If you truly forgot to do something, do not over-explain. In true Gordon Ramsay style, recover, and save the excuses. By giving excuses, you are crippling people's expectations of your work, when what you really want is to admit that we all make mistakes, and they can adjust their own worldview. The latter being, everyone can identify with and the former being just someone desperate to cover up. Ironically, you win power by being more vulnerable because you don't win approval, but you win empathy.

Writing from power also means being affirmative. "I think", "It might be possible" are phrases to avoid especially when you are putting forward a recommendation. It cracks open debate which will further undermine your confidence. If you are not sure, then why are you recommending?

3) Tone

Friendly or business-formal? Should I insert that smiley face? Is slang allowed?
It is obvious that much of tone comes from the first 2 points. Yet at the same time, tone is the structure we put up to set ourselves up for success or failure.
Consider your relationship and objectives, if you would like you ease a tense situation by throwing a joke, you would be better off doing it in person. Humour is a risky thing, because it depends on timing and frame of mind. Unless the relationship is on a firm basis, risking a joke is generally not wise.

Consider tone as a bridge between 2 gulfs of ideas. If you have a point that you want to say, consider using tone to draw the person in. Sell-in rather than hard-sell. It is often much palatable if the writer seems to be open to a conversation, rather than coming as a directive.

Except of course, when it is truly a directive.

I consider tone like music playing. You can play the piano and the teacher often asks you to sing the melody line. You get a sense of phrasing where the composer intends to end a sentence. Tone of emails is exactlt that, you have to read your email out loud to consider if the text  reads well. Are your salient points are highlighted? Can some parts of the email be interpreted wrongly? Think about various ways of reading, like music, there are many ways to go about singing a melody.

Tone, is a word that is associated with aurality. When in doubt, vocalise.
Ultimately, this is a very long and convoluted way of thinking about email writing. I don't have specific tactics, because if those will automatically come to you if we shift our mode of thinking. Don't self-victimise, and tilt power in your favour. Appraise how your reply affirms or disavows your position in the company and write mindfully.

My rule of thumb is, if I have doubts about my email, discuss it offline with your manager or with that person directly. It's often a sure sign that the email will come back with a reply that is not entirely favourable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

So you didn't get that promotion...

Recently, many of my friends/colleagues had their bubbles burst. This cuccoon that good work should be commensurated by good pay, and the implied trust that you will get a pay raise when you get promoted, is sadly broken.

In many conversations, I've insisted that good work is rewarded by more work. Behind that, there's always a trust that you will be rewarded accordingly. More responsibilities means being paid for it and vice versa.

Then 3 years into my career, when I've had a peek under the hood, I realise that people are not all very smart nor rational. I discovered many ugly politics that resulted in my various hires, and the real reason why people leave. I've witnessed incompetent employers being driven by employees yet never sharing the profits with them. I've been disgusted by senior management's miserly cost-strapped approaches that deter growth. That "defend whatever pie I have" instead of finding more. It would seem almost fate, that a slew of articles and reports seem to correspond to my current worldview - young underpaid burnt out executives who leave or are asked to leave due to rapid financialisation of companies and rapid cost cutting measures to meet those financial goals.

Work more, for less.

This lore, must rest.

My best friend, like Morpheus in the Matrix, offered me the blue pill and I've since opened my eyes for the first time.

Meritocracy doesn't exist. If it naturally did, why do we still write it into our national pledge? Why do ministers still insist that the civil service is meritocractic. We hardly need to instate upon a concept that exists in reality.

I've burnt out before, and felt hopeless. For 5 months this year, I've come to re-assessed this lore that has been ingrained in me throughout my educational journey.

It is true to some extent, that the best people tend to get the better pay and education has had a big part to play, besides gender and social class, in one's life chances of making-it-out-there. Yet, when we tear apart the cohort analysis, across individuals or communities (like young executives), we face ever-increasing disparities. Not all education types are valued equally, not all industries reward the same, not all bosses promote individuals with good qualities.

As we are schooled to become ever so alike, ironically the notion of meritocracy as we know it changes. Merit is based on who can angkat bolah (carry balls), who's able to get into the good books and do what upper management want. Performance at work, becomes a wayang, and taken to the extremes, creates a vastly disturbing and toxic corporate culture.

The key is really to keep on learning, even when life is unfair and promotions become extremely biased, I believe it will play out and here's why:

Ultimately, success is about grit and resilience. Resilience is all about being adaptable and gaining the skills that makes you mobile and less-company-dependent. It is true for any HR, that the best people will always leave and the worst are hard to get rid of. Companies always struggle to balance short term cost cutting measures with long term gain. Given the financialisation of many companies, short term gain is becoming more of a reality than long term development. While that is none of our problem, since we are the cogs in this entire corporate machinery, that burden of sustainability is not ours to bear.

I always say, "this problem is above my payscale".

Yet it has implications. It suggests that with increasing short term worldviews, we have to ironically think long term. I live in constant belief that I might be asked to leave my desk tomorrow and every month I ask if I have the skills to go  elsewhere. If every month my answer is yes, I will sleep easy at night. If not, it's time to consider readjusting my position/scope in the company.

Many of my peers then turn to businesses, as an alternative eden. Your own hours, full profit, calling the shots. No more unfair promotions, no more nonsense from upper management. Except when you're daunted by real prospects, you realise how much more politics and craziness one has to bear. From unscrupuloys suppliers to powerful buyers, doing business come in all flavours.

Burn out. The candle's wick can only burn for so long. The wax is evaporating  Bills go up in smoke.

Generally, while there are tons of articles telling you how to deal with a burn out, my last takeaway is to not make work your all. Don't make work your reason, find a reason to work, to make it work. Yes it sucks that the promotion didn't come despite the hardwork you've put in. Leave for better prospects not for the feeling of injustice, but for a better future for your family. Arm yourself with the skills to negotiate for that future you want, build your reputation, which over time outweighs its worth in gold.

Meritocracy doesn't exists, not perfectly anyway. Find strength in places, seek solace in others =) push on.