Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Life after a Layoff

My blog post “Acceptable Losses” elicited a record number of responses in the form of comments, phone calls, text messages and e-mails from both friends and strangers alike. I suppose the post touched a chord in most readers, because it talked about layoffs, a matter of much concern in these times of global economic slowdown.

Sanjay Dattatri was one of those strangers who wrote to me. He said:

“As part of my work, I talk to a lot of companies and people. Very soon I realized that there are a lot of layoffs happening in India, but mostly under the radar. Companies are not interested in exposing themselves to political pressure (like in the case of Jet Airways) and hence are finding excuses to fire people (Transfer them, drastically reduce salary, scrutinize their resumes for inconsistencies, look at their expense reports, dress code, anything at all that can be used to fire people on disciplinary grounds or make them voluntarily quit).

On the employee side, unlike you, most people are averse to letting on that they have been laid off, especially when some charge has been foisted on them. Indians are still not used to the concept of layoffs and there is a fair amount of social stigma associated with it.

Thus I found that people who got laid off had no support, neither societal, nor governmental (like employment benefits), or from corporates.

This prompted me to start a site with a built in forum where people can come to share their experiences, get/give career advice, find job openings and generally get support. This is a purely not-for-profit venture...”

Later, Sanjay came to see me at home. After successful stints in Bangalore both as an employee and as an independent entrepreneur, Sanjay is currently based in his home town Chennai, where he has founded a very interesting jobsite called, very different from the “monster”s and “naukri”s of this world. Please do check it out.

But the real purpose of this post is to request you to direct any colleague, friend, acquaintance or relative who has lost his job recently, to the site and also encourage them to participate in the forum ( These are still early days for the site and the forum, but over time and with active participation, it could well grow into an important support resource for those who are fired, sacked, retrenched, laid off, down-sized or right-sized and need help.

Whatever is the term or euphemism used, people who lose their jobs suddenly, need all the help they can get. By directing them to Sanjay’s site, you can help their cause in a small but significant manner.

Cartoon Courtesy:

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Command & Control Issues

I was thinking of the happenings in Mangalore recently when a group of seemingly self-righteous men marched in and attacked a group of young women in a pub. The men were activists of the self-styled Sri Ram Sene and the attacks were ostensibly carried out to protect Indian culture and uphold the purity of Indian womanhood.

My grand uncle Keshavan, if family folklore is to be believed, was some kind of sexual athlete whose abiding pastime as a man, until he reached old age, was to bed women. He married couple of times, conducted a few well-publicised liaisons and had innumerable one-night stands in places as distant as Devikulam in the high- ranges of South Kerala to Chemancherry in the North of Kerala.

For a person who sought pleasure and perhaps a degree of solace in the arms of various women, grand uncle Keshavan reserved his more acerbic and caustic comments for the fair sex. While discussing women, he was extremely dismissive and one could always detect an undertone of barely-disguised contempt. In modern day parlance, he would have been doubtlessly nailed as a male chauvinist.

We, his grand nephews, used to analyse this apparent paradox: Here was a man who, if we were to believe the escapades related in hushed tones by the assorted aunts in the family gathered around the ancient grindstone on hot April evenings, went after anything that remotely resembled the female form. The same man also happened to be a copper-plated misogynist who made sneering and cynical remarks about members of the opposite sex that infuriated the said aunts considerably.

The adolescent grand nephews discussing the problem reached a facile, but perhaps erroneous, explanation. We surmised how could he have any respect for them, if obviously he had in his youth found out that women were such easy prey. If the aunts’ accounts were correct, he did not have to really try hard for his various conquests: women came to him like the proverbial moths attracted to the flame. No wonder the man had such a poor opinion about women.

Now we know better. Modern psychology asserts that misogyny, hatred, dislike or mistrust of women, stem from unresolved conflicts between man’s intense need for and dependence on women and their equally intense fear of that dependence. A misogynist feels that his masculinity depends on dominating women. Essentially insecure and racked by deep-rooted anxieties, he feels powerful by subjugating women and tries to control them by destroying their self-confidence. Any encounter with a woman is a battle to be won. He can never say, “OK. Have it your way,” with any modicum of grace to any woman.

Suddenly the paradox does not seem to be a paradox at all and I am able to see the incident in Mangalore in a new light. No, I am not suggesting that Mr. Muthalik and his followers are misogynists and that is why all this happened. Nor am I forgetting the fact that the incident had strong political underpinnings, as it gives fringe political groups such as the Sri Ram Sene an ideal plank to push themselves into the national limelight.

But if we go beyond all these obvious compulsions and explore deeper, I feel we find deep and abiding male anxieties at play, issues of command and control.

What do you think?

Photo Courtesy:

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Monkey On Your Back

When I had sent out a mail to all my friends and past colleagues on my departure from the company, one of the first replies I received was from Joergen, wishing me luck and gently enquiring whether I was planning to retire in Kerala. I smiled when I read that message; Joergen had always been fascinated by Kerala.

Joergen was my first expatriate boss and one of the best. A tall, handsome Dane with a balding pate, Joergen, when I first met him more than 25 years ago, must have been in his late thirties. An excellent manager, he had a highly-evolved sense of humour, which sometimes played itself out as dry wit or cutting sarcasm, depending on how you looked at it. While he could be extremely solicitous to the customers and utterly charming to the ladies, Joergen did not suffer fools easily and used to routinely destroy them with the sharp, rapier-like cuts of his delicately wicked sense of humour.

One day I walk into Joergen’s cabin with a problem which I thought was beyond my abilities to solve. I am a 26-year-old greenhorn, new to the complexities of sales management and am understandably nervous when I start blurting out my problem to him.

Joergen makes me sit and asks me to start all over again. He lights up a Marlboro (this was before the days of the “no smoking” offices) and listens to me attentively, interrupting me not even once. I finish my narration and wait expectantly for his reaction. But Joergen is silent. Leaning back in his chair, he is looking up at the ceiling and quietly blowing smoke rings. He seems to be in some kind of trance.

Impatient minutes tick by, as I sit and fidget in frustration.

“So what are you going to do about it, Rada?” asks Joergen, after a long time.

I don’t know. That is why I have come to him. I tell him so.

Joergen looks disappointed. He shakes his head sadly and tells me: “I do not want the monkey on your back.”

“Sorry?” I cannot comprehend what the man is talking about.

Joergen is kind but firm: “If you have a problem, chances are you are the best person with ideas how to solve it. So please think the problem through and come and discuss the possible solutions. I will help you choose and refine the right solution. But by trying to dump your problem on my lap, you are just transferring the monkey on your back to my back. Sorry, not interested.”

We together solved the problem in the next fifteen minutes.

Even today when young managers come to me for solutions to issues or problems they themselves have not thought through, I derive some mischievous satisfaction by asking them not to transfer their monkey to my back.

Thank you, Joergen!

Image Courtesy:

Friday, 6 February 2009

Acceptable Losses

I lost my job last Monday.

I go back to the office after a month’s medical leave and I am handed over the proverbial “pink slip” with an unsubtle urgency that is vastly amusing: Please hand over your laptop, if possible today itself, and oh yes, you don’t have to serve out your notice period: we are giving you a month’s salary instead. And please close the door on your way out, thank you very much.

So, I closed the door after me, very softly. Banging doors is just not me.

Even a year ago, such an unceremonious exit in India for a senior manager of a company, who has put in more than 30 years of service, would have been unthinkable, unless of course he had committed some financial impropriety or been charged with sexual harassment or something equally unsavoury. But right now, unfortunately, we are not living in normal times. Companies, their balance sheets all bleeding and under pressure by the shareholders to reduce costs and increase efficiency, are becoming increasingly jittery and unsure of what to do.

We know desperate people tend to make impetuous decisions; the same is true for desperate companies as well

By engineering my departure in so abrupt a manner, I could see the company had alienated a substantial number of staff, if the flood of distraught and disconsolate visits, phone calls, e-mails, and text messages I had received over the next two days were any indication. Similarly, by not allowing me enough time to say a proper good bye to my customers, all of whom will have to get to know of my departure through third-party sources, the company may ultimately end up garnering a lot of negative publicity it can ill-afford in these difficult times.

Finally after clearing my desk when I came out of my cabin, the entire floor stood up as one and quietly escorted me down the steps into the lobby, gravely shook my hands, and led me to the car. As I looked at the pinched and unhappy faces of my colleagues, some of who have worked with me for over two decades, I felt a deep sense of sadness welling up inside me. I was not feeling sad I was leaving the company; I was grieving the fact that I would not be working anymore with these wonderful people. It was as if by leaving, I was letting them down in some way; I was leaving them defenceless with none to stand up for them.

As I waved my final good-byes from the back of the car, no, I did not choke.

That would have been very unsubtle.
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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.