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OP-ED: Which work culture is right for you?

  • Published at 06:57 pm September 15th, 2020
Work Culture
Photo: BIGSTOCK

The corporate world, government offices, and academia -- all have their pros and cons

The glamour of corporate life appeals to Zoomers and Millennials in its promise of handsome salaries and brand prestige. Some, on the contrary, are seduced by the respect and social security afforded to government employees. Others are drawn to academia for its air of focused study and contemplation. Yet they find common ground in chasing the elusive dream of work-life balance. 

The office culture of a workplace comprises, amongst other things, the spoken and unspoken rules of etiquette, the lack or presence of hierarchy, and its work ethic. The social attitudes and professional resolve of stakeholders also figure heavily in the culture. 

A figurehead, such as the CEO, plays an important role in setting the organizational agenda. Co-workers may either thrive under his/her charismatic guidance or stumble because of his/her lapses in judgment. Occupational yield and morale depend, to a great extent, on the practices and responsibilities embraced by the organization. Young aspirants can observe different perspectives of office culture in the aforementioned sectors of choice.

Corporate culture

Banks, MNCs, and start-ups are popular destinations for some engineering and business graduates. While an observable wave of start-ups has adopted casual attire, the movement has not gained much momentum in the corporate sector as a whole. Corporate firms emphatically prescribe formalwear for both men and women and clean shaves for men. 

Creativity and teamwork are not only encouraged, but also rewarded at start-ups and multi-nationals alike. A portent of success in the corporate jungle is one’s eagerness to expand his/her network.

The economy’s willingness to welcome international brands as well as funding has opened the way for corporates to offer modern amenities to their employees. In addition to on-site facilities such as gyms, snacks, video games, and table tennis, multi-national companies have long provided annual perks like profit-sharing with permanent employees. Excessive workload and forced overtime are often compensated with attractive bonuses to retain company loyalty and satisfaction. The grapevine, or word-of-mouth, helps to reinforce the corporate vision, and feed ideas to management. 

However, the escalation of foreign investment has likewise increased the ambitions of employees. In some offices, the personnel seek to climb the corporate ladder at the expense of colleagues. Through systematic abuse they gain favour with supervisors, and quick promotions. It allows managers to assess and deal with employee dissent in an appropriate manner. 

The paucity of higher positions on one hand and the abundance of competition on the other ensures the persistence of cronyism. Therefore, employees who keep their lips sealed tend to survive the drudgery. 

Government office culture

Despite the promising growth of the private sector, the bureaucracy has not ceded much ground to it. Government jobs remain popular amongst many, as appointments are perceived to be less dependent on social background or connections. Candidates believe that they will rather be rewarded for persistence and effort. Though the high-handedness of government officers has become a cliché in popular culture, traits like honesty, humility, and pro-activity are prized in the community.

A strict chain-of-command sets the bureaucracy apart from private companies. Superiors value “can-do” attitudes in their subordinates. Young officers are expected to share some of the workload of their bosses and must show deference to senior officers. In a similar vein, their juniors are expected to help them as needed. Pensions, housing, and property benefits serve to diminish the inconvenience of transfers and deputations.

As the saying goes: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Hence, government employees, as state servants, are expected to show greater restraint in expressing their opinions. They have to be cautious while addressing issues other than science or culture. They also must not speak about other countries in a manner damaging to bilateral relations. Civil servants are further forbidden to have direct stakes in enterprise in order to avert conflicts of interest.

Academic culture

University teaching professions are seen as some of the most lucrative jobs for research-inclined students who wish to avoid the din and bustle of corporate life or civil service. University professors, especially government ones, are highly esteemed in society and the nature of their work draws the least critical attention or controversy.

While public universities follow a pay structure similar to that of government service, the hierarchy is flatter and professional deference is paid on the basis of respect. Private universities, on the other hand, carry some notion of ranking and this entails a competitive element reminiscent of corporate offices. 

As a result, both lecturers and professors must stop short of speaking against the university’s goodwill and message. Similarly, the vice-chancellors and deans have the tough job of balancing their duties towards their colleagues, students, and the board of trustees.

The pursuit of tenure and the pressure to publish have been likened by some to a rat race. The demand for results may trickle down into personal life and breed frustration and inactivity. In the absence of good rapport with colleagues, it is difficult to find collaborators for research. The inability to perform good research, in turn, hinders professional goals like promotions and increments. 

Arannya Monzur is Lecturer, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.

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