The dispassionate view

“One must not be passionate about work,” advised Mr A, my boss, shaking his head grimly. He was frowning at my enthusiasm on being given the charge of HR Department for some time – till the head of HR came back from his vacation. It was a promotion of sorts for me, and the idea of bossing over my pals in HR appealed to me. Moreover, a fresh process of new recruitments was to start soon, and I would have a major say in the matter. I believed that our HR was messed up, and I could do much to set things right. But Mr A would have none of it.

“Once you start getting excited about work, you are doomed. Take care,” he warned.

“Being passionate about what you do is the only way to success,” I argued. “The greatest managers, or for that matter, people of any field, succeed only if they believe in what they do.”

“And that is also the sure path to disaster,” he said firmly, brooking no argument. “Passion befuddles and leads to irrational decisions. One must be always be detached and calm.”

This reasoning could not be argued against, but somehow I did not agree with this dull, unromantic vision of life. Anyhow I did not pay heed to this sage advice at the time, and felt confident about the bold and brave path that I would follow in my profession. I even drifted into a fantasy where I saw myself receiving an award for outstanding contribution to the company, at a glittering ceremony, sometime not too far away in the future.

My first official meeting with the HR personnel, some of who are my bosom pals, did not start on a happy note. They did not seem to like a rookie boss being foisted on them. The HR guys were not at their chummy best when I suggested that they should look into the needs of the organization before preparing the strategy for fresh recruitment. They objected to the word strategy – they said procedures for such things are clearly laid down, and we just need to follow them. Someone even murmured that this was a specialized job, best left to the specialists. Since I did not want to ruffle feathers, I decided to look into other aspects of the department first.

The issue of reviewing the compensation package for the staff on the basis of their performances came up next. I was told this was done in consultation with Superboss. The process begins with the filling in of the appraisals, finding the sanctioned funds under salary head and drawing a formula for increments. I thought I had heard the sequence wrong, and said so. HR staff looked silently at each other, and I could sense a certain frostiness that I could not explain.

“How would you like it done?” asked Phil, a balding veteran at the HR, with a touch of sarcasm.

“Appraisals must be with you already, filled in by department heads?” I asked.

“They are, but we review them,” Phil said.

“But how do you know about performance of staff from other departments?”

“By discussing with Superboss.”

“But the appraisal by department heads is already reviewed by Superboss before HR gets it,” I pointed out.

“We assign weightage,” he said vaguely, and seeing that I was expecting more information, said, “Well, that’s how it was done till last year.”

“All this leads to arbitrariness. I would like the increments done impartially,” I said.

“Do it. Get the sanction of Superboss for the new procedure,” replied Phil calmly.

HR was a temporary charge for me. Also, I was not an HR specialist. Thinking it over, I felt it would be better to exercise discretion in this matter.

I decided to focus on an area that I felt strongly about – which would make a difference in the lives of people – and asked the staff to put up for review all pending cases of ‘grievances and appeals’.

The ‘grievances and appeals’ have to be handled as per the law of the land. Later in the day Phil brought a dozen fat files for me to go through. Phil said that the first ‘law of the land’ is – ‘show me the person and I will show you the law’. I did not like this cynical wisecrack, and gave him a harsh look that shut him up for a while.

I was a little surprised that the grievances were mostly from the staff against who we have the greatest grievances – I mean from the ones who hardly work, and who are almost totally devoid of any sense of basic work ethics. I asked Phil why it was so. It was time for Phil to give me ‘the look’.

“That is because they are the only ones who dare to register grievances. It also gives them protection from any action that we may take against them,” he explained reluctantly.

On going through the files I lost all my zest for redressing grievances. I decided to concentrate only on the more pressing matters…like… “What are the more pressing matters that need to be looked into?” I asked Phil tamely. If looks could kill, I was a goner that day.

Later that week, on seeing me depressed, or at least not too passionate about work, Mr A asked me the reason behind the gloomy countenance.

“Nothing,” I replied with a sigh. “There is this general apathy towards work, a lack of work culture, that is keeping us down. This needs to be tacked,” I said vaguely. But the astute Mr A seemed to understand.

“You must know how to ride the momentum of vested interests,” he said. ‘Momentum of vested interests’ was new one. Mr A can be quite a philosopher, when he is in the mood.

“Most things happen because of the general momentum created by various people working in their own interests,” he explained, “That momentum cannot be changed by passion for work or good intentions – the wise ones use this momentum for their achieving their ends.” I wish he had said ‘for achieving higher goals’, but I knew he was being very specific with words.

“But that is exactly why nobody is happy with his work,” I protested.

“Happiness at work is an elusive, mythical concept,” he retorted. “Passion at work creates a conflict with your personal and home life. It annoys your co-workers and creates trouble with the bosses. A happy worker will do things he is happy doing, and is not likely to stop when asked to. He will be less disciplined than required. He will be argumentative and have strong opinions. He will end up being a general nuisance. And when this is pointed out to him, he will resent it, feel frustrated and rebel. The net result – zero happiness. As I said it is a contradiction, and a temporary aberration at best. One must not be passionate about work.”

The philosophy frankly did not appeal to me, and I said so. Mr A sometimes shows the patience of a true Guru, and in this spirit he continued, “There are a whole lot of things one can be passionate about. Mr X has a passion about collecting bugs, for instance.”

Mr X, the chief rival of Mr A, has a good collection of rare butterflies. He also harbors a passion for his lady assistant, I remembered.

“Advisor has a passion for being seen playing golf with the who’s-who,” Mr A continued. “Admin has developed a serious craving for online chatting and social networking.”

Boss gave many more practical and ‘successful’ examples along similar lines of people having life beyond work. And though he did not reveal his own objects of passion, I got the drift.

I had so far not been attracted to this philosophy of Mr A. But his conviction and the expression of deep contentment on his face made me wonder. Maybe I should give a serious thought to the concept of having some passion beyond work, and not take the office too seriously.

My problem is, I have not been too passionate about anything so far in life, and did not know where to begin. The matter exercised my mind for many days when suddenly one day a thought struck me – “How about developing a passion for my better half. Hmm…seems safe and unique. I don’t think it has been done before,” I told myself, satisfied, and set about planning for the same.

***

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About Abhishek

I will let the blog speak for itself...or, at times, for me. View all posts by Abhishek

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