What makes a workplace unbearable?
As a child, one of my favourite things to do was to go to work with my dad on Saturdays.
It was a more “casual” affair, when he was allowed to (or was it mandatory?) put on a polo or maybe a pair of jeans and strut in with a bit more youthful vigour into his workplace.
The office was located in Nakhalpara, an oddly named place which will remain forever etched into my memory though, to this day, I have no idea where exactly this is. I imagine it to be somewhere near the Prime Minister’s Office, but my faulty memory could very well be mistaken in this regard.
But I remember it being a fairly long journey, a journey I excitedly woke up for at 8am every Saturday morning, despite it being one of the only two days I had to sleep in so that I could visit “abbur office.”
To this day, they remain, if taken out of context, some of my fondest memories. They introduced me to the world of computers and the internet way before any of my contemporaries had experienced it (I had an embarrassingly childish Hotmail account at the age of nine), and I would spend hours using the telephone intercom system to make phones ring all over the office (much to the annoyance of others there, I’m sure).
And I loved the overall environment of the place, the aura that such a corporate head office of a multi-national company would exhibit: From the central air conditioning to the shiny floors to the automated doors, all of it came together to fascinate my pre-pubescent self.
This occurred to such an extent that, at the time, there was little I wanted to do more than work in an office like that, with my own room one day, giving orders to people, casual Saturdays, and the internet, amongst other things.
And, to a great extent, I believe this illusion stayed with me as I grew up, and grew too old to accompany my dad. But that’s what it was, at the end of the day: An illusion. Because I also consider myself lucky by the fact that, though my dad was the medium through which this illusion was created (and I believe that our hyper-capitalistic environment would have done that anyway), he was also the one who was responsible for destroying it.
It was through him I realized the frustration he felt at work, hidden underneath the glitz and glamour of a typical MNC behemoth: The frustration created by long, unreasonable hours, the redundancy and repetition of the work, the politics that had to be played, the egos which had to be nurtured, the lack of satisfaction, the communication gaps between management and employees.
The list was endless and interconnected.
Underneath the façade of politeness and the artificially chilled air was artificially concealed animosity. And the effects of this combined environment from which my dad came was profound, not only in the way it instilled in me a fear of similar experiences in the future, but also how this misery would bleed into the home, creating havoc and distress everywhere it went.
I experienced this in such great detail, that when I think about the work experiences I’ve had as an adult, I consider my dad’s with them, for I feel I have lived through them vicariously. It did, to a great extent, contribute to what kind of career I would follow, what kind of job I would want.
The importance of a healthy working environment is one which we have failed to put emphasis on. We have sacrificed satisfaction and peace of mind for money. We have created a culture which is constantly chasing, stressed out, and miserable. And this generation, my generation, is the worst amongst them.
From what I have gathered from my own experiences, combined with the experiences of close friends and family friends -- Bangladesh remains worse at this than other nations, taking advantage of their employees to the extent that the one thing people enjoy in their lives is a slightly longer weekend. And the problems aren’t specific to these big multinationals alone.
It seems that the one thing that matters to us more than anything else is our perception of things, rather than the reality. We value quantity over quality, length of time over efficiency, and lack the self-awareness to be self-critical and self-analytical so that we may improve ourselves.
We are constantly engaged in struggles of ego and power, trying to prove ourselves as better than our colleagues, our peers, engaged in acts of sickening sycophancy, desperate for the approvals of those who have little bearing on our values as good human beings, good employees, or the quality of our work.
Who would want to work in such environments? Sure, millions of graduates come out every year, but who would be even close to be satisfied under these circumstances?
Eventually, more and more young people, talented and driven, disillusioned by the cruelty, stupidity, and politics of employment, leave. Either to make something of their own (any surprise that we have become such a nation of start-ups?), or to fly across the world to countries which treat them with more respect.
Overworked, under-compensated, surrounded by the fragile egos of their elders: This is their gift, their inheritance. Is it any wonder, then, that rapidly, we might be losing them? Is it any wonder, then, that eventually, my dad, frustrated beyond tolerance, even at the ripe age of 55, decided to start something on his own?
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.