It is often said that the most difficult of questions have the simplest answers. Critically analyze an ordinary middle-class person’s life and you will realize that questions are never difficult, the answers are. Millions of questions flow through our minds every single day but we choose to ignore them on purpose, in order to channel all our energies in the relentless pursuit of our ambitions.
Pursuing an ambition is a luxury bestowed upon a few by life. For the many caught up in the tide of life, staying afloat is the only thing that matters. In this race for survival, people often overlook a fundamental aspect of their lives, that is, to question. Many people do not question out of ignorance, but, most people do not question out of fear. Like most people, I never questioned the things going on around me until I was forced to do so when I landed my first job.
The dilemma of every graduate student
Getting the first break in a field of one’s choice is the first and foremost priority of every fresh graduate. Being a graduate of one of the finest business schools in the country, I firmly believed that it would be fairly easy for me to get into a good firm solely on the basis of the achievements reflected on my resume. This was a mistake that cost me a year of unemployment because I had greatly underestimated how deep the reference system had penetrated our corporate culture. Reference – a decent term used for the Urdu word ‘Sifarish’ in our corporate culture – has become indispensable for employment seekers.
Having a strong reference is pivotal as it not only helps a candidate’s CV grab the attention of the employer for consideration but also aids the candidate in getting through to the interview if his/her resume meets the bar set by the hiring team. The employer’s perspective for using the reference system is based on the fact that it considerably reduces the workload of the employer. Rather than having to process all the CVs sent for a vacant position, mostly the ones with a strong reference are considered and processed. This saves an immense amount of time and energy for the employer and gets them a suitable candidate without any great hustle. Simply put, the reference system has been unfortunately institutionalized in our corporate culture.
Once people get into the corporate world, a myriad of challenges awaits them; challenges that are a direct outcome of the insecurities embedded in human nature. In my brief stint at a corporate job, the first lesson that I learned was that all humans live under a cloud of uncertainty and the fear of that uncertainty is the root cause of all ills in our society. Corporate jobs are generally considered to be highly insecure and rightly so. At the top of the heap is the sales job. If an employee in the sales department fails to meet his/her target over the prescribed time period, he/she is bound to get fired by the company, instead of being supported or reallocated.
The clouds of uncertainty in the cooperate world
Keeping in mind that sales are what ensure the survival of a company and drive its profitability, sales personnel should be, ideally, any company’s most prized and protected employees but this is not the case in Pakistan. In our country, sales personnel are the most vulnerable to being sacked. As for the personnel in other departments of a company, the only thing that matters to them is to get the job done and always being in the good books of their superiors because that is what solidifies their position in a corporate setup.
In their quest to achieve the aforementioned objectives, employees many a time do not dare dissent from their immediate supervisors and this inability to disagree is precisely what leads to their exploitation, be it male or female employees. Hence, lack of job security in our corporate culture enables the exploitation of a company’s personnel to its fullest. This exploitation is what fuels physical and mental health issues in private sector personnel and be potentially causing them to engage in domestic and other forms of violence as well. History stands witness to the fact that the oppressed go on to become the oppressors.
Whenever I come across people working in the private sector, there exists a general consensus among them that they are underpaid and overworked. In Pakistan, entry-level positions do not pay more than PKR.45,000 and this problem is further compounded by the fact that salaries increase moderately as new entrants move up the chain of command. Furthermore, job satisfaction is another missing link. Failure of our local companies to make the employees feel valued and a part of establishing something that will outlive them is what sinks in that feeling of dissatisfaction and transpires in midlife crisis.
Looking at the controlling mentality of subordinates
Multinational companies are not only employee-centric but also engage actively in Corporate Social Responsibility. This is the key aspect that sets them apart from our local companies and explains why people prefer to work for such big names. Moreover, senior executives in local firms need to let go of their controlling mentality and take on the mentality of a leader if they wish to become market leaders in their respective industries.
By controlling employees, the private sector enslaves its employees and capitalizes on their vulnerabilities; by leading them by example, senior executives will contribute to the growth of their subordinates as professionals which will subsequently make them an important and valued part of their organization.
The questions with which I left the corporate sector were: Are we all free? Or is freedom just a fancy illusion we all live through our lives? I was fortunate enough to work in a firm where the Pakistani corporate culture had not set in but the sheer exposure gave me a glimpse of what life is like in the private sector.
A welcome development in recent times in the Pakistani corporate culture is the provision of medical health coverage and provident funds to their employees by local companies. This heralds a change in the thinking of the local employers as they start to realize that a secure employee is an efficient employee and an efficient employee implies a satisfied customer and a satisfied customer leads the way to unprecedented profitability. This is the first of many steps that our local organizations need to take in their struggle for setting the trend right and becoming a sturdy engine of growth for our country.