(As seen, with minor editing, in yesterday's Businessline.) Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with an HR professional over a cup of coffee and get to know her side of the Young Manager dilemma.
The Young Manager Dilemma is what we call the entire superset of problems that HR and the new manager seem to have with each other. Let me explain.
Not enough pay, the manager says. The business can't afford it, HR replies. Crappy food in the canteen, the manager says. That's why we secretly have a separate contractor for the HR team, they retaliate. I don't see my career going anywhere, the young manager cries hoarse. Stop bothering me when I am playing Solitaire, the VP HR responds. I would like to move into Marketing as that is my long term career goal, you email the Manpower team. We have a Marketing Department?!!, they immediately retort.
Indeed over the years many small, medium and large level problems have deeply rooted themselves, in a morale-debilitating minefield of sorts, between the people in HR and the young, new managers.
My friend prefers to call this explosive family of issues 'The Young Manager Dilemma'.
"They are NEVER satisfied you know" she said slowly shaking her head side to side. "Nothing you do is ever good enough for these new managers. You do this much and they want this much." She first holds her hand about a foot over the table and then extends it over her head.
She is right of course. Young managers can be a pain in the backoffice. I myself have given many an HR professional sleepless nights with my incessant questioning and clarifying.
"But I still don't get why I can't encash one week of leave right away! I haven't used them and it clearly says in the HR Manual that I can encash leave I don't use..." I once ranted and raved.
"Yes. But you need to work enough to earn your leaves!" the HR guy retorted in a lame attempt at defense.
"So why don't you calculate that and tell me sir..." I told him as I walked away pleased with having raised an important issue during my orientation program.
But much of this tension is just due to the unbridled ambition that many of today's new managers approach their jobs with. They are eager to perform and I know this because many of them keep forwarding me emails with advice on how to easily improve my performance as well.
Alas the blood is hot and the manager is young. That is a volatile combination in addition to being an unnecessarily melodramatic line for a humourous newspaper column.
My friend suddenly looked up at me her eyes screwed up in anger and her eye brows furrowed together severely. She calls this her 'Retrenchment of several employees in one go' face. She said: "These fellows should be glad that they are not in China you know. Listen to this true story that happened recently."
You may check with the Xinhua News Agency for full details of this fascinating story that will lend much mirth at HR conferences all over the world for years to come.
This occurs at an automotive parts manufacturer somewhere in China. Besides making excellent automotive parts that, in US Dollar terms, cost just one-tenth of US manufactured parts if you exclude the product liability and patent infringement law suit costs, the company also espouses a most unique Corporate Policy.
Simply put the policy states a method for handling any dispute between a senior and his subordinate. According to the policy if a subordinate disagrees with something a boss tells him he is immediately fined on the spot. A second offence means an even greater fine. At the third offence the employee is fired.
This actually happened to an employee recently. And she is now taking the company to court.
Now take a moment to let this sink in.
We are not talking about a serious offence here like setting fire to the SAP server or passing something you shouldn't have through the paper shredder like, say, the VP Finance.
In this company you CANNOT contradict ANYTHING that bosses say. If they say "I think we should brand this product Fluffy Puppy!" you are NOT allowed, as per policy, to correct them and say "But the product is an industrial garbage compactor." Instead you are supposed to nod along and agree.
Now some of you might say that this is not at all surprising coming from a country like China which is pretty popular for their authoritarian government. I could go and on about various anecdotes from the Chinese style of government but the fact remains that the Chinese press suffers from a dearth of high quality writers in English and I fit the bill perfectly.
Now I would like to see how some of our new managers would deal with a situation like that. Where, when you need to contradict top management, you can't fill in a form, fire out an email salvo or convene one of those 360 degree feedback meetings. All you can do is mutter to yourself very quietly and go back to your little cubicle.
"Now if only they would expose our young managers to some of these cruel work environments before they started working. Then I'd like to see how many of them turn up and crib at work everyday."
My friend in HR was working herself up to a frenzy.
But I guess she is right in a way. We all do tend to get a little too caught up in our personal goals and forget what a good thing we have going for ourselves here. And sometimes it is OK for things not to be perfect at work.
For instance let me talk about my very first job. I was recruited to setup a material testing lab which, about fifteen minutes after joined, was scrapped by the top management in Bangkok.
So I sat around with nothing to do. For months. It drove me nuts. And no one there seemed to care.
Today, however, I have learned from my impetuous ways of old. Of course I still get a pay check from that employer even years after I decided to no longer go to office. But they don't know that.
Most importantly, I am not cribbing.
And my message to you is this: Maybe you shouldn't too.