A few years back, I watched an Indian web series called 'TVF Pitchers' which highlighted the journey of an Indian executive quitting a high-level position within an organization to fulfil his entrepreneurial dream.

Are you in the right workplace? Presenting the great Indian professionalism paradox TVF Pitchers Scene

This image uses a Wikimedia Commons Photograph taken from the web-series 'TVF Pitchers'

But that's not all that we're here to discuss today.

Upon the debut of TVF Pitchers, I was reasonably convinced that there was some merit in recognizing the perils of continuing to work in an environment that was toxic for what can be best described as "my life's purpose". It did not necessarily have to be about starting my own company or being my own boss, but had more to do with the fact that it is important to do things that make me truly happy. In my case, that elusive professional satisfaction or 'fulfilment' comes in the form of creating good content that can possibly help people like me. It might be something else entirely for anyone else. Dreams know no boundaries, after all. But just like Mr Gardner portrayed by Will Smith says in 'The Pursuit Of Happyness', I began realizing (amidst periodic socil amnesia, admittedly) that we are indeed responsible for upholding the sanctity of our happiness, in every imaginable aspect.

My tirade today, therefore, does not being with the relentless criticism of everything wrong that happens to us, but everything wrong that we end up doing and believing in.

Let's take the Pitchers example. I, like millions of other viewers, found a reason to instantly connect with the way Naveen Kasturia's character describes the emotions behind wanting to launch his own product with his chosen team. The character's on-screen frustration with his existing job, and the way his former boss-turned-adversary tries to pull him down at every stage, was reasonably conveyed by means of extraordinary acting and dialogue. And amidst constant criticism of the series (in the form of comparisons with Silicon Valley and distinctions with Silicon Valley), it did cross my mind that the series never mentioned a product. I know, this has all been said and done before, right? The team wanted to retain the most viewer-friendly aspects of the story, and exclusion by choice is not the same as intentional oversimplification. But the fact that Indian content creators continue to exert the love for their audiences by eliminating fundamental questions, still haunts me.

Yes, it makes sense to draw a distinction between Silicon Valley and TVF Pitchers by saying that the former revolved around the pitfalls of a product idea and the latter focused on team-building, but did it? Did it really? Pitchers, while doing justice to its viewership by creating contrarian material, still went south of where it could have gone (and this is just my opinion) by intentionally leaving out the parts that are hard about following your dream.

You need the right idea, for starters.

This doesn't just apply to startups. You don't need to be a businessman to come up with at least a rudimentary idea of what you want to do differently, in order to best fulfil your professional aspirations. You could be a mid-level professional looking for a career switch, but rather than focusing on the complexity of an interview process, I would imagine that a decent movie or web-series about professional career-switches would have more to do with what the protagonist actually wants to do! In your story, you are the protagonist.

It is important to know when you start, what it is that you have set out to achieve, and to never lose sight of that goal, let alone allowing it to drown behind the secondary drama fuelled by so-called 'adversaries'. Yes, friends are friends and it is human to be emotional about what you want to do and who you want to do it with, but your product or end goal should be important enough to supercede environmental pettiness.

Are you in the right workplace? Presenting the great Indian professionalism paradox - Inside an Indian startup
Photo by rawpixel / for The Times Blog, via Unsplash

That being said, let's talk about the environmental pettiness, shall we?

I understand that a blog post is probably the equivalent of a punctured tyre designed to keep you afloat in the shallow end of a pool, but a series of events in my life have recently prompted me to return to doing what I do best, so I'm going to take a shot at explaining this anyway. And this is my first stint at a truly independent publication, so please feel free to send your honest criticism my way on shom@thetimesblog.com. For those who continue to read further, thank you.

Are you in the right workplace? Presenting the great Indian professionalism paradox - Woman employee in an Indian startup
Photo by rawpixel / for The Times Blog, via Unsplash

Many Indian professionals are not happy with their workplace.

Like I've said before, this doesn't just happen because everyone wants to quit and start their own companies. Workplace depression (yes, that is a valid expression!) can be the result of multiple factors, including but not limited to:

  • The organization's lack of vision in identifying what an individual is capable of
  • Undermining the individual's unique abilities as a possible value-add to the organisation's interests
  • Harassment in the form of sexually passive-aggressive behavior, implied megalomania, psychological bullying, and much more

When your organization does not realize what you are capable of doing

The reason why we addressed the elephant in the room before arriving to this section, is that before we even begin to dig the skeletons in your closet about issues that hold you back at work, it is important for you to acknowledge and establish that you know what you are capable of and be honest to yourself about it. Once we've crossed that barrier, we can try to understand some of the reasons why this may not be appreciated by others around you.

Your organization's top management or your immediate supervisors may not have a deep appreciation of the kind of work you do.

This is highly plausible in the current Indian setup; Most bosses and CEOs are B-school graduates who have spent countless hours knww deep in management books and people-management riddles, aand hardly any time in developing an understanding of the kind of work that the people they will manage, perform on a daily basis. I like Apple Inc's approach of compensating engineers at par with their own management teams, so that there is no sense of implied superiority. But sadly, this is not the case with most Indian companies. Startups and MNCs alike have followed the traditional form of meritocracy that fails to recognize actual skills and chooses to focus instead, on someone's diplomas and numbers on their resume. The loop (yes, it's a loop!) extends to include both leadership members and investors, who are also known to fall quite frequently into the trap of 'investing in people' as opposed to investing in actual, tangible, realizable ideas.

You might be very good at doing something, but your organization expects you to do something entirely different.

This is also a very common scenario in Indian organizations. A lot of people get hired because they impress the recruiter using a mixture of their actual talent and people skills, and then the people skills begin overshadowing the actual talent when this individual is assigned to a team and a manager. The manager eventually, instead of re-assessing his or her initial strategy, decides to integrate the new employee as a 'cog' in a rusty system. Nobody complains, and everyone suffers.

Aside from the obvious lack of productivity that such processes lead to, it also spells doom for the employee's professional aspirations because he or she no longer has access to real feedback, on the work that they are actually good at. The whole exercise of hiring, training and evaluation becomes futile because a pseudo-sense of 'culture' precedes any hope of actual talent-nurturing.

Are you in the right workplace? Presenting the great Indian professionalism paradox - Workplace harassment
Photo by rawpixel / Unsplash

When you get 'harassed'.

Yes, I said the 'H' word. And it's not always sexual, I know that. You know that. It mostly is, and that's another sad truth (to be explored in another story), but it's not always sexual. A standard Indian employee today gets harassed on multiple passive aggressive levels, including scenarios where:

  • He or she is subjected to unsolicited criticism from people who know nothing about the work they do
  • He or she is pressurized into 'socializing' with non like-minded people - This is a bigger problem than you realize right now
  • He or she is forced to attend 'team-lunches' and 'team-outings' in the name of team building exercises, where the real underlying reason is probably explicit megalomania from a manager or a leader
  • He or she is forced to dumb down their work in order to make it more visible to the rest of the team
  • Someone looks over their shoulder, literally, all the time on the pretext of montioring against unproductivity
  • The list goes on...

Just like the Indian school system, these unwritten processes within organizations are a threat to any individual talent that may have otherwise thrived. People get misled into believing that they are really not fit to do their jobs because they failed to comply with someone else's idea of professional ethics. And this manifests in layers, through any organizational hierarchy with enough discrimination and clutter to ensure that at the end of an employee's journey with a company, they no longer have the will or mental strength to even start questioning what went wrong.

(This series will be continued by Shomprakash Sinha Roy in subsequent articles, so stay tuned to The Times Blog! If you have any comments or feedback for the author, please write to him on shom@thetimesblog.com or editor@thetimesblog.com.)