Thursday, October 31, 2013

Workplace Wisdom IV- When the PA strays

Like Caesar’s wife, the Big Boss’s (BB) PA must be above suspicion. She is the repository of all the information pertaining to the organization and the people in it. And she is also the conduit through whom the BB routes his communications, his memos, and his final decisions. Working this closely with the head of the organization swells the head of many a PA who may just initiate power games in the office. It therefore takes someone of some maturity and a level-head to perform this task well. “If it is the BB you want to win, then it is with the PA you begin,” becomes the motto of those who want to woo the demi-god.  Officers befriend her to try and win her confidence. This is as good as winning the approval if the BB as his PA is his first source of information about his subordinates. The information she supplies to the BB likely to be in favor of those who kow-tow to her.
 Most BBs are reluctant to survey the floor themselves and so rely on their Pas for information. Human nature is naturally inclined to prejudice, and unless simpered by wisdom and far-sightedness, the PA is going to pass on a lot of her own opinion for information. Some BBs even consult their Pas about the promotion of juniors and when writing performance appraisals.
 A PA with mischievous intentions may pretend to be friendly with the staff. To get them on to her side, she may regale them with instances of her Boss’s oddities. Soon inhibitions are down, anecdotes are being traded and opinions aired without the customary caution. Thus armed, Madame PA may well hurry to the BB to give him the lowdown on her discovery – adding her own tidbits to pep up the account.
 If such behavior is indulged in, it is a clear indication of the questionable ethics of the person occupying a crucial position in the organization.  It does not speak very well of the BB’s maturity, basing his decision solely on what may often be pure gossip or hearsay.  It takes two to tango and so much more so in a professional situation such as this. BBs must make a fair assessment of their Pas. They must rely on their own observations, avoid exchanging gossip with them and resist the temptation to seek their counsel on official matters such as those that may affect the career of an employee.  As for the PA, she must have integrity and a non-partisan attitude to the people who work for her boss. She must not misuse her position to create factions in the office. If a discordant note has been struck in inter-personal relationships at work, she must, in the interest of the BB and the organization, intervene to restore harmony.  If she has been confidante of some members of the staff, she must hot hold them to ransom when it suits her and abandon them at will.  She must not part with any confidential information, and as far as possible, keep to herself.  Familiarity, in her position, is bound to breed unpredictable situations.  If talk she must, there are always general subjects like the weather, films or the nuclear ban.  And personnel or recruiting managers must beware when they choose a PA. A mature, balanced person with a good family background and a dignified deportment are essential qualifications.  A soft voice is an excellent thing in woman, as Shakespeare said, and a smile while it need not be perpetual and plastic, can save the day when it is genuine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Worplace Wisdom III-Turncoats and troublemakers

 Politics, to paraphrase a famous saying, is the last refuge of scoundrels. In many organizations, it’s the main business or chief occupation of some staffers. Even as we mouth axioms on management skills, we indulge in unhealthy politics at work. This obviously diverts us from our work, resulting in mediocre performances while sowing seeds of discontent and suspicion within the organization.
For those who have neither the inclination to join the politicking staffers nor the temperament to beat them, the alternative would be to keep well away from them. However, it is virtually impossible to remain and aloof if one is directly or indirectly affected by office politics. Sometimes, for sheer survival, employees resort to ganging up and creating factions which, though born out of self-defense, can be very harmful to the organization in the long run.
Like so many other ills, this tendency to politicize the office atmosphere often starts from the top. The powers-that-be feel more secure if they can drive a wedge between colleagues – a variation of the divide and rule policy. They openly flaunt their preference for particular persons or departments. These people, secure in the approval of their boss, turn the political wheel further by exploiting their favored position. Convinced that they have the blessings of the ‘higher-ups’ they start dictating terms and demanding a recognition of their clout.
This naturally results in the formation of the opposition camp comprising the resentful ‘neglected’ colleagues. These groups which are left out in cold then tends do find a modicum of comfort in clustering together turn smug and self-satisfied, relax their professional efforts and busy themselves feathering their nest.
There are turncoats in every sphere of political activity and it is no different in a work environment. Such people can easily be ‘bought’ over by the ruling camp. Seemingly in the opposite camp: these people carry all the ‘inside’ information to the ruling one, obviously in return for certain favors or benefits. They are usually very smooth in their operation and because they are not always easily identifiable, tend to be very dangerous.
 The trouble monger is one who wins your confidence and then cashes in on it by threatening to spill the beans. He or she also instigates trouble between colleagues – “How come you haven’t got a raise when X is doing less than you and has been given an increment?” or “How come you weren’t invited for the boss’s party when your junior was?” These snide remarks are designed to create a rift, make the victim feel insecure and unappreciated and result in demoralizing and demotivating what might have been a sincere and hard-working staffer.
The only way to mitigate the damaging effects of such politicking is by each worker developing the self-discipline to mind his or her own business. There must also to peer group loyalty in the best sense, and a commitment which results in a healthy team spirit and a feeling of unity within the organization. Potential troublemakers should be firmly put in their place.   

Every employee of an office is there to build  the organization: to keep it functioning smoothly. An organization which escapes the internally destructive and weakening effects of bickering and politicking can only prosper and grow. And that, of course, is in the ultimate interest of the employees themselves.  So, instead of wasting time and energy on activities which only retard progress and affect the quality of work why not join hands to make the office machinery run smoothly? Develop the maturity and judgment to see through people who are there only to brew ill feeling. Cultivate a broader outlook and regard each colleague as an ally with a common purpose rather than as a rival.  Let politics remain the prerogative of scoundrels – and not of professionals!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Workplace Wisdom take or not to take leave!!

A surefire  way to make some bosses see red is by applying for leave. For some strange reason, most organizations are averse to granting leave to employees though the charter of commitments spells out a provision for the same. An employee has often to resort to nefarious excuses to avail of his rightfully earned leave which more often than not is sanctioned grudgingly by the employer or the boss. This only serves to sour an agreement which is designed to be mutually beneficial. Leave was a concept arrived at after a very rational scrutiny of what encourages the optimum performance of an employee. It originated as a periodic getaway from the daily grind so that the employee comes back with a fresh and rejuvenated approach to his work.  To facilitate his efficient functioning, slots were also provided for an occasional ‘casual’ take off and for sickness or an accident. In spite of this thoughtfully  planned schedule, why does taking leave become a bone of contention? The key word is ‘planning’. Every employee owes it to his organization to communicate well in advance his intention to avail of his ‘privilege’ or ‘earned’ leave. Most people like to use this for a holiday with a family or for a quiet, restful sojourn at home. Once the head of the department knows when his staff plans to ‘take off’ he can tailor his requirements at work accordingly and delegate duties so that the smooth functioning of the organization is not disrupted. The boss must use his discretion and ensure that the same person does not always get the best bargain. If there is a tie of requirements of equal urgency, perhaps a viable split can be suggested. The intention should be to accommodate everyone’s preference as fairly as possible, without detrimental consequences to the organization. This is possible only by coordinating the requirements of the various departments and drawing up a practical schedule. Some organizations offer the incentive of encashing leave, thereby defeating the purpose of the whole exercise. There are many employees who consistently encash leave and forfeit a chance to ‘get away’. The organization may welcome this ‘dedication’ but in the long run it will only harm the employee. He should be persuaded to take leave at least once in two years. He will then be a better asset.  As for those ‘casual’ days off, employees must assume the responsibility of taking advantage of the privilege when genuinely in need rather than just claiming the right to stay away. A sudden illness or any other unforeseen contingency may account for an un notified absence, but these are extreme cases which can be appreciated.  By and large, there is a tendency to stay back for trivial reasons.  A little more commitment is called for.  A phone call to the boss shows consideration and a sense of responsibility, as do instructions to the secretary or a junior regarding pending matters to be tackled. It is a good gesture to let the office know where one can be contacted just-in-case.  It is indeed in bad taste to send oneself telegrams stating “Mother ill – come soon.” It is best to be truthful and take leave only when you have to or need to. As for the employer – let him grant leave gracefully. When the situation is non-threatening and employees are not made to feel that the organization is out to do them out of their dues, they themselves may be less demanding.