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:: Workplace woes
Mar 27, 2011 09:21 am
My sister recently quit her job - for the umpteenth time. What was the problem? Colleagues, or rather ‘seniors’ who harassed her. Who was the senior? A 19-year-old youth. How old was she? 27! I have been through this mill myself but I asked her why she couldn’t assert herself instead of simply opting to quit like that.

“I am new to that organisation. I can’t go around ‘asserting’ myself - they will think I am a trouble maker.” I am sure those of you who have started work already will be familiar with this scenario. If you are smart, you will learn to assert yourself and navigate your way around it. If not, you will have to keep on hopping jobs too.

My sister’s problem was that the fellow assigned to teach her accounting software and procedures at her new office was making her feel like a fool - while deliberately not really teaching her anything.

“Come on, don’t you know even this?” A surefire way of getting someone new to cringe and keep quiet, doubting their own abilities rather than the abilities of the trainer. But she was 27, a part qualified accountant and had several years of experience under her belt - not to mention that she had already been exposed to this particular trick several times before. So why did she fall for it? Accountancy is not static; different organisations follow different procedures and softwares.

No matter how qualified or trained you are, you will have to learn anew, the accounting procedures of any new organisation you join.

“He was supposed to show me how to operate certain accounts on Excel. He moved his fingers so fast over the keyboard, I couldn’t follow what he was doing. When I asked him to clarify which keys he was pressing, he sneered “Don’t you even know Excel?” and then he turned to another co-worker and complained, “It’s so hard to train her. She doesn’t know anything.”

Yes, Excel which is part of the Windows operating software is a very basic package that all accountants should know of. She did learn it a long time ago, but her knowledge of it had grown rusty with disuse.

Most offices prefer to use more sophisticated software, either tailor-made, or custom-made for their specific company. Some companies such as this one used Excel too, in combination with other software but it is not necessary to castigate anyone for not knowing something. It’s fairly simple stuff which anyone can pick up easily under a competent trainer. She knew she was being made a fool of, but instead of asserting herself, chose to bow out.

When I first joined an organisation as an accounts trainee in the year 2000, I was 19. I had already admitted that I had no knowledge of computers at the interview. The boss assured me it wasn’t a problem, I could always learn.

Easier said than done. Yes, it’s very easy to learn how to use the computer, it’s certainly not rocket science but to someone who has never touched one before, it can seem like a monster. The office seniors were divided into two kinds - the old fashioned ones who didn’t know how to use the computers themselves, and the others, who did know but were guarding their knowledge as a very precious secret.

Attempts to get them teach me resulted in some very hilarious reactions (hilarious to me now).

“Oh it’s very difficult to learn - you need to attend classes for it,” “Don’t go touching the computer unnecessarily if you don’t know how to handle it, you might damage the files on it,” “You still don’t know how to operate a computer? Gosh!” and so on and so forth.

When I persisted and asked them how to operate the Word document and to open an email account, they mumbled a lot of jargon and let their fingers fly over the keyboard so that I had no idea what they were doing, and ended up assuming it was all highly technical stuff that I was too dumb to understand.

I find the whole thing extremely hilarious now. They succeeded for a while in making me feel inadequate and stupid but I finally went for classes and came to understand how simple operating a computer really was. Did they stop to think of what I would think of them then? If they had been helpful, I would have been grateful and remembered them with respect. But all they earned was my contempt.

The problem is that many ‘Seniors’ at work think, by behaving in such a silly fashion, the newcomers will be in awe of them. Actually No - all you’ll earn is the new employee’s contempt. It might work on some of the more naive and under-confident ones for a while, but eventually even they will wise up.

In my sister’s case, she knew what the fellow was doing but she felt constrained by the fact that she was a new employee in trying to assert herself. Not necessarily a wise reaction, the sooner you assert yourself, the better for you. If it’s the sort of company that has a culture which doesn’t tolerate new employees standing up for their rights, then it’s in your best interests to find another company. That is what will eventually happen anyway.

My sister got fed up within six months and quit - at which point, several senior level managers talked to her, asked her what the problem was and tried to persuade her to stay. But she had exhausted her level of tolerance and just wanted to get out.

The objective of most companies is to keep their employees as happy as possible to be as productive as possible. Yet, Sri Lanka’s ‘senior - junior ragging’ culture ensures that most young people keep dropping out of jobs caused by unnecessary stress.

Don’t give in to it, develop yourselves, be confident and assert yourselves as and when the necessity arises - the sooner the better.

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