Thursday, August 09, 2007

Occupational Hazards

I think about the hazards that people put up with, day in and day out, just because of their professions. It's not like I'm writing an HR paper or attending a conference. This thought is a recurring one.

In school, we were taught about how asbestos factory workers ran the risk of exposure to silica dust. And for a long time, I always thought of occupational hazards much the same way. Exposure to this, lack of that, inhalation of something else: always a physical hazard. As I grew up, I also realized that being in the defence forces was a hazardous job. In its own way. But then again, not just physically, also mentally and psychologically hazardous.

I somehow never thought about my own job as being hazardous in any way. Until a few years ago. And several incidents over the years have thrown light on what those hazards might be.

I was waiting for my mother at the airport about 6 years ago. I met a guy who went to school with me. A few years my senior. We talked for a bit and exchanged cards. Then he said, "We should keep in touch." I thought, "Yeah, we should." I was looking at it from the perspective of rebuilding my friends' circle in Madras as most of my friends had moved out in the time that I was away. A few days later, I got a call out of the blue. From this guy. We got talking about this and that and at the end he told me he knew someone who is very enterprising and smart. Could I find her a job? There. It was out. Out there for me to see that the title of "Head - Human Resources, India Operations" of a multinational consulting company had worked its magic.

Since then, I have always wondered about why people befriend me. Earlier, I used to believe that it was because of who I am, not because of what I am. Now, somehow, I am not so certain. I am a little wary of people. And let's face it. I am not averse to helping someone. If I can be of use, why not? After all, I have been helped too. But I hate the fact that this "help" can be the be all and end all of the supposed relationship.

My teachers at school always thought I was a spoilt brat. I didn't want to go to IIT and my parents said OK. I wanted to study Biology and my folks were supportive of that. While I was a popular student at school for most part, towards the end of my school days, I wasn't much loved by my teachers. Why? Because I wasn't too good at Math and Physics. Because I didn't have high ambition. I didn't aim for the IITs, JIPMERs and AIIMSs of the world. It's a different story altogether that the same students with high ambitions landed up beside me in B.Sc. I got what I wanted, and they got what they deserved. Yet, somehow, in the overall scheme of things, I was the lowly one. The star who could have gone anywhere she wanted, but the star who went astray. The top ranker who chose Biology over all else. The one that started out great but turned out just about average.

Accused of lying, cheating and just about everything else (because I needed time off for my cousin's wedding), warned of stuff such as, "My God is watching you." To which the every-cocky I responded with a, "Just as mine is watching you." Fast forward to about 3 years ago. I run into the same teacher who told me I was a good for nothing liar because NOBODY gets married in the December 15th-January 15th time frame. And I was accused of printing my cousin's wedding invitation. We're talking about the early 90s. I didn't even know where one went to get such stuff done, let alone actually go do it. Time is a healer like no other. We talked. I was civil and nice. She asked what I did after school. I told her about everything, including the fact that I was a University topper. And she asked for my card. Immediately, I had a sense of deja-vu. I didn't say or do anything, but I knew what would happen next.

A few days later, when I was back in Hyderabad, I got a call. The same teacher had an enterprising, smart (hmmm!) nephew who needed a job. I asked for the resume and called him for an interview. He made it through the written test, but the technical team rejected him after 2 rounds. I happened to be in Madras again at the time. I got back and sent the candidate a reject mail. My ordeal started from that point on. The teacher called me said, "I'm banking on you. You're the HR Director, how can they reject anyone if you say not to. Is there actually someone above you?" I told her that it didn't matter whether or not there was someone above me. I would do the right thing even if no one was watching. After that, I never heard from her. How did she start banking on someone who barely 10 years ago was a cheat and a liar?

There was also the case, slightly before this one, of the librarian whose daughter was doing her MBA. I met him at an alumni meet and later, he called. Could I get his daughter an internship? No, I couldn't, because we had a space constraint at the time. A few months later, I moved to another company and he probably tried to reach me at the old workplace. And he probably couldn't. Sometime later, he passed away. I sent a condolence message and his son lashed out at me. Saying things like, "When he was alive, you avoided him and now you're sorry he's no more." I was shocked. I don't try and "avoid" anyone. But when I am helpless and the hound me, maybe it does seem that way.

Why am I writing about this today? Because I'm upset. Irritated. I heard from someone I'd barely worked with. She was leaving the company just as I joined. And I had to complete her exit formalities. I was done with everything and there was something pending from her side. I had to attend a family function at my cousin's place and told this lady that I'd leave at 8. She delayed and then pleaded with me to come back and finish her paperwork. For a host of reasons, I decided I had to finish her work. Then she started hounding me for her relieving letter. She'd call everyday, even at 9 p.m., to ask for the status. People in HR have no life, you see. When that was settled, I never heard from her. I didn't expect to. Then I realized all the lies she told me about studying further and moving abroad. She moved to GS, another job. Why lie about it? But suddenly, yesterday, the woman has added me as a friend on Orkut. The usual, "Do you remember me? You looked very cute in a sari." and all that rubbish. I sarcastically told her that I never forget people who make me miss family functions.

This morning, I opened my mailbox to find an email from her. Her brother-in-law is moving to India from the US. Could I help him find a job? I politely declined because I have no contacts in Bangalore anymore in any case. But the point is, if I did, would I still have? I doubt it. I want to have nothing to do with people whose every move is a calculated one. Every phone call, every meeting, doesn't have to have an outcome, doesn't have to have a hidden agenda.

Talk to me, spend time with me, I'd love it. As long as you're doing it because you want to, because you like to, not because you need to. Take me for who I am, and not for what I am.


Chitra said...

Tell me abt it...i hv been in similar situations most of the time...i have been caught at wrong places asking for help..forget mom has undergone such situations..some distant relative will call all of a sudden and ask..your daughter is with this company as HR Mgr nah can you pl ask her to help my son to get a job?? Why oh :( why do ppl assume that if we are in HR we can get anybody a job without clearing interview(s) ???!!!!??? strange ! of my aunt called me up (who has not made an attempt to PC with me in 15 yrs) and said see am an LIC agent...i know ur in ask ur employees to take insurance from me...i got so worked up...what did she think i was into uh ??? Very creepy, annoying and Weird

Deepthi said...

see i liked the way u ended the blog"take me for who i am" i wish the same too....

Pretty Woman said...

its hard to find genuine people who talk to you/ make friends with you without any other motive...its sad but true....I personally try to be polite, smile and keep my distance!!

btw, looks like you are back with a bang on raaga! :D

Raaga said...

@Chitra: My sister in profession!! I am sure you know EXACTLY how it feels.

Raaga said...

@Deepthi: It is a plea.

@Pretty Woman: The thing is that we rarely have motives, and if we do, we lay our cards up front. I guess the mistake lies in expecting the same of others.

Revathi said...

Sometimes my husband says I have high standards for living, which he is proud of. But he also says, expecting others to have such high standards is hazardous too. Because, like in your blog, I get disppointed when people ask for undue favors without thinking twice about it and how it will affect the friendship/relationship if I couldn't comply.
However, why should I care about how they take my response? After, they are the one who put the friendship in jeopardy by demeaning it, right? I have across so many people who make "friends" just to get a return. I rather not have such friends for the heck of it.
It is very true people cannot seperate our profession from us, the person :(
Can you also write an article on unprofessionalism at work?

Revathi said...

I guess I got very emotional typing, too many errors:

Sometimes my husband says I have high standards for living, which he is proud of. But he also says, expecting others to have such high standards is hazardous too. Because, like in your blog, I get disppointed when people ask for undue favors without thinking twice about it and how it will affect the friendship/relationship if I couldn't comply.
However, why should I care about how they take my response? After all, they are the ones who put the friendship in jeopardy by demeaning it, right? I have come across so many people who "make" "friends" just to get a return. I rather not have such friends for the heck of it.
It is very true people cannot seperate our profession from us, the person :(
Can you also write an article on unprofessionalism at work?

Laksh said...

Your post reminds me of my Uncle who retired as the ED of one of the banks. He set a precedent as one who did not mix personal with professional life and I was and still am proud of having someone I knew set a good example for us.

Keep up the good work. I can empathize with what you write though I am not in HR myself. You have a nice personality and it shines through in your writing.

Raaga said...

@Revathi: It takes all sorts. I'll definitely write about that sometime soon.

Raaga said...

@Laksh: Welcome to the Online Raga :-) Your uncle set a very good precedent. In today's world however, it seems to be a dying trend.

Damitra said...

hmmmm...i never thot about it this the risk of sounding 'holier than thou' i must admit i always thought of how anxious i was to get my first job....and in most cases, candidates are thankfully unlike the people who recommend them!!

Raaga said...

@Damitra: Anxious to get my first job... somehow I wasn't. Maybe because I got my pre placement offers long before I graduated.

But even when I needed to move to a specific city, I never used any favours to get a job anywhere. And I wouldn't ever.

But I didn't understand the last bit...

Damitra said...

Dear Superwoman ;), you really must go through that phase of wishing, hoping, praying that the company holding the next interview has something to offer that you really really want....its a feeling that you wont forget in a hurry :)

I am not advocating recommendations and frankly, i had to fight off well meaning family and friends who were just dying to get me a 'fantastic' job even before companies came on campus!!

But the point i was trying to make was just an add on to your article.... that in my experience, candidates who have been recommended have been rather embarassed at the fact that they were at an interview because of a reco..i always found them pretty harmless and sweet, quite different from the pushy people who recommended them!

Raaga said...

Now I get your point :-)

I have gone through the phase of uncertainty... just a year ago... after I got married and moved cities. But even then, I didn't allow any recos :-) to be made.

And you can't hold the fact that pushy people recommended them... for or against them! Right :-)

Anonymous said...

My objection really is to the high and mighty sound of this line:
*** But even then, I didn't allow any recos :-) to be made ***

Although I havent been recommended for any of my jobs either, I dont see any harm in it. After all nobody gets a job because they were recommended .. they only get an interview(like you said in your write up) where the interviewee needs to prove her/his mettle regardless of having come in via a recommendation or not.

Other than that, the sentiment of your article did resonate with me and it is rather nicely written.

smilie said...

The article truly depicted one's emotions.I have had similar situations and still meet these kinda people.
I too have met people who can fall on feet when they want things to get done and dont bother later then.

anaggh said...

Made interesting reading & more importantly rung a bell more than anything else. Does not matter, forget the comments & do what you think is right.

Raaga said...

Don't you think the fact that someone recommended you to an interview acts as a deterrent in some way? I mean, there'll be every kind of pressure... to perform later as well? And if you get the job you can't say no or can't quit because it just changes so many equations... I'll say do it on your own :-)

Raaga said...

@Smilie and Anaghh: Thanks

Rain said...

hmmmm...recos and referrals are have their pros and cons, i guess.

But what I can't understand is that why ppl take it personally if a favorable outcame doesnt materialize. And actually take it out on a person who tried to help. I get very annoyed with ppl who demand that u put their priorities above everything else.

And ur blog seems to be....well...the word that comes to mind is "friendly" !! Shall drop by often :)

methodactor said...

I was here earlier. Thought I had left a comment. Saw nothing today.

Aaaaanyway, I have had my share of meeting such random jerks and having been told to "ignore them, hota hai". I call such people A-class jerks you know. Still working on how to actually deal with them. Good post ya.

mysterious_malady said...

Oh Jeez. I feel like a sleaze now. I just moved back from the US towards the end of my PhD without completing it for various reasons and am now in the process of looking for jobs. People have been forwarding my resume to friends and friends of friends.

I just hope for an interview knowing that the interview will let them know my calliber but after reading this I am not so sure. See, I have principles too and it would piss me off to no end if I were used this way. Actually, coming to think of it, it has !

I am, also, not one of those people who keep calling and bugging the person that's doing you a favour by forwarding your resume.

Not sure if you remember me but I was in PU, doing integrated MSc., when you were in your second year.


Raaga said...

I do remember a Lavanya... who joined a year before I did... same person?? Lakshmi's batch?

mysterious_malady said...

Yes ! Same person. I thought you joined in '97 but I guess I was wrong ! -Lavanya.

mysterious_malady said...

OK ! I am having major brain farts. I got confused about when I joined PU. I got there in '96 and your timeline is correct ! Sorry ! Guess the madras heat isnt agreeing with me ! -Lavanya.

Chillpilgrim said...


So many comments and yet not one person accepts the fact that we've all had to take favor from someone we knew( maybe even a long time back), as a contact but not as a friend. I HAVE done it, though I try my level best not to disturb people I know little about.

There might be furore and ill-feeling about the existence of person like me amongst the saints who commented here, but I do not care. After all, wasn't it Jesus who said “Whoever is without sin among you, let them cast the first stone.”

Chaitali said...

I really wouldn't know the whole asking-for-favors-from-long-lost-friends part because I'm not quite at that stage where people ask me for favors, but I completely agree with you on what you said in the first part of your post.
I got pretty good grades in 10th and actually passed my math and sciences exams, which I honestly cant understand how as I hate math and physics and for the life of me can't understand WHY we have to study those abominations. Anyways, after my 10th I chose to enter the Arts stream and then go off and study Anthropology and World Trade (which I'm currently doing). My parents completely supported me and were happy that I found something I was passionate about, but all my old teachers and various aunties and uncles totally objected as they expected that I 'should atleast do commerce if not science'
It's so frustrating to see that even in this day and age people look down upon the Arts field and discourage anyone who tries to do something different. Not everyone is cut-out to be an engineer or a doctor. It's just so sad to read about 15 and 16 year olds who have committed suicide just because they didn't get into the IITs or AIIMS. Life really shouldn't have to be that hard that the only option you see is suicide, especially not at that age.