We all come into life the same way ‒ kicking, screaming, and splashing body fluids everywhere. It’s kind of the same way we start our careers. In pain, confused by the bright lights, and being slapped around by a strange man wearing latex.
All college gave me was a degree, a busload of student debt, a can-do attitude, and not a clue what I should do with it all. So I joined a corporation. It would be fun they said; give you stability they said; you’ll rise up the ranks in a few years and get a hot secretary they said. But the corporate life is everything it shouldn’t be. It promises you the world, but all it gives you is a really bad rash. Sort of like a night in Pattaya.
First of all, who really thinks a corporate job is a good idea? I’ll tell you who. Mums. Mums want a corporate job. My mum. My friends’ mums. Pretty girls’ mums. My mum’s mum. Every mum thinks that a corporate job is the bastion of civilisation. All they see is their little boys, all dressed up in neckties, neat haircuts, and pressed pants, heading to work and coming back home at the same time every day, like perfect little gentlemen. So very civilised, mmm hmmm. What they don’t see, is the tie-induced asphyxiation, soul-sucking nazi haircuts, and trousers so tight in the man junction that there is room for only one of the family jewels. What’s up with Sri Lankan-made trousers anyway? They’re either baggy enough to hide a colostomy bag or tight enough to make you look like Freddy mercury and sing like the Vienna boys’ choir.
But the mum gets what the mum wants and on comes the interview the way most interviews are arranged in Sri Lanka: ’cos your mum met the sister of the CEO at some wedding or funeral. Apparently, all mums have a little black book with the names of CEOs in them. Like some sort of maternal mafia network.
Once mum makes the call, the interview is snagged. You print out a CV filled in over a default Microsoft Word template a decade out of date, grab a tie that was fashionable in your grandpa’s time, paste your best capitalism-worshipping-worker-bee-smile on, and head off for the interview. You’ll probably spend the next half hour on a faux leather couch, nearly dying from a sort of bored nervousness, until someone calls you in.
Have you noticed how most HR managers all look kind of the same? Broad faces from too many pastries, neat clothes, and a mild-mannered smile. But the eyes have a tightness about them that speak of having to deal with too many whiny employees, and twitchy fingers that seem to want to reach for a cigarette. They ask the same questions, too. Some inane nonsense about an instance when you displayed leadership, another about how you handled conflict, and one about how you took the initiative and solved problems like world hunger or hemorrhoids. Mine thought of himself as a bit of an expert. I could tell, because he had a series of questions obviously copied from a Business Insider article on “Top Interview Questions Google Asks Its Employees”.
None of this is the real test, however. That comes when he asks you what school you went to. If it is the right school, you’ll spend the next half hour talking about that physics teacher who liked to pat bums, the rugby team, how hot the weather is, and maybe some politics. At the end of the conversation, you’ll get the job anyway. I got the job because, well, mum.
For a month or so after joining the company, everything seems fine. People are nice to you, you feel important, and you fully expect to become CEO in 5 years. But there’s something about corporates that people don’t tell you. It’s really boring. It’s just a never-ending blur of meetings, printouts, powerpoint presentations, and cups of tea. Seriously, you just live from tea break to tea break to save yourself from the mind-numbing boredom of it all. Sure, everyone looks busy, but it’s just make-work. Because if you don’t pretend to be working, someone might think you are lazy and you’ll end up in trouble. It’s not that there isn’t any work to do, however. It’s just that the distribution of work is as uneven as an MP’s waistline. Approximately 80% of all the work in a corporate company is done by 20% of the people. It’s the 80/20 rule of corporate constipation ‒ 80% of all the crap in a company settles in 20% of the corporate intestine. It’s a situation that creates a very ripe and tense atmosphere of hot air, red faces, and tight butt-cheeks.
It need not be so, but a fear of delegation, a hoarding of power, high turnover, and just general confusion causes quite a backing up of work. If you are part of the 20%, you have to overdose on suppositories just to keep things moving. If you are part of the 80%, you just serve to pad the HR department reports and presentations on how inclusive their hiring system is.
The whole HR experience is engineered to hide this and make you feel part of a pack. From the generic CEO speech, to the motivational emails from Human Resources, to those polo shirts with the company logos that you are supposed to wear tucked in ‒ it’s all part of what keeps you plugged into the matrix. It’s an illusion. A big corporate is like the Titanic; it’s all a big love story till you hit an iceberg, you’re Jack, and there’s no room on that door for you, mate. Sorry.
A Company Man
One might ask why I didn’t leave after coming to such earth-shattering revelations. But there’s something about the corporate life, though, that keeps drawing people back to it. It offers a sort of stability, that’s hard to find elsewhere. If you just keep showing up, not taking leave days, and kissing buttcheeks long enough, you’re bound to get promoted in ten years or so. You also don’t need to use up too much of your brain’s processing power, and can save it for more important tasks, like weekend network gaming sessions. As the new guy, you get your share of desultory flirting, which is nice, and which lasts about as long as it takes for the next new recruit to get a desk. The people there are friendly enough, and the office itself can be nice and comfy, so there really are compelling reasons to make people stay.
But probably the biggest reason to stay, is for the free lunch. Honestly, a good rice packet can distract from a world of unhappiness. Your life may suck, work may be as exciting as a dung beetle rolling a load up Sisyphus’ hill, you might be single and not have had any action since Britney Spears was cool, but it’s all okay once you dig into that free lunch.
The free lunch is a corporate’s best tool, and biggest scam. There’s something about free food that makes us weak in the knees, and rumbly in the belly. It’s a Sri Lankan thing. It’s in our blood. We go to weddings for the food, to funerals for the food, and stand in lines for hours for an ice cream that would cost 50 bucks in one of the hundreds of shops surrounding you. We grit our teeth and do our nine to five because it really is a bloody good rice packet. With extra papadam. Some days there’s even a cup of yoghurt. It makes one think that maybe life is not so bad after all.
This piece is part of new series that is part satire, part social commentary, and part good natured nonsense. ‘BEING BROWN’ looks at the world through the eyes of a person with brown skin who struggles with connecting to his cultural roots while at the same time dealing with the pace of a Westernised society. Some of the things you read in BEING BROWN are based on real events, while others are a bit dramatised. Neither are meant to offend anybody except in the way that satire sometimes offends preconceived notions and social inertia. That kind of offence, we’d be happy to take the blame for.
Featured image credit: Roar/Rajith Maligaspe