If you are dealt a tough hand at work, it eventually paves the right way forward…wait for it.
While in conversation with the founder of one of my preferred agencies for communication campaigns, the topic of deadlines and pressure came up.
We’d been struggling to get our creatives out on time without losing nights of sleep; what was once running like a well oiled machine was now creaking along with things falling through the cracks.
While I was proud that we managed to sustain a great company-agency relationship thus far — by virtue of my having been in an agency before, and my own determination to be the ‘understanding client’ that I never had — it was hard to not point out to the founder, and my friend, that the resource crunch he was facing at work was definitely taking a toll on quality of deliverables (and our lives, since we were losing sleep!).
He finally submitted one evening, while we waited near a favourite chai-stall in Colaba…
P: “Two of them left recently. They leave so quickly..”
A: “Your recent hires? But why, do they not like the job?”
P: “They join in loving the job, the more recent hires were remarkable on a lot of projects. But somehow the immediate expectation seems to be that they’ll get a raise or get promoted. There’s no instant validation at work — it comes with experience and years of applying yourself. Don’t you think?”
A: “True” (I nodded meekly, reminiscing the tough times I’ve had at work. Wondering where’d I’d have been if I had actually dived out every time I felt I wasn’t climbing up) “I’ve seen this — probably felt it too, but something always stopped me from leaving.”
P: (Immediately clubbing himself with me — the older Millenials) “We didn’t because we know it’s supposed to take time. The amount of time and effort you spend in an organisation, in a field, is what makes you seasoned. We don’t say no to things we didn’t expect, we do it if we can and make sure we don’t sign up for it if it doesn’t help. We don’t bail, because we can’t afford to!”
He was right, we had crippling student debts, dreams (like a start-up) depending on us, and somewhere along the way — our parents rubbed off on us too, perhaps — teaching us the merit of sticking to something we’ve committed to, till we see it reach its complete potential. We knew how bad markets could be and we functioned like we had no fall-back. But are all these reasons truly why we didn’t job-hop, or were we just risk-averse?
P: “I’ve started my own company!”, he quipped, when I voiced this concern about our fear of risks. “This isn’t about risk, it’s about respect, empathy and strength of character. I struggle to retain the newer generation of joinees because they come with unattainable expectations to be the next big thing too quickly. What’s more, sometimes I really worry about their mental health — I lost a great resource recently because she had severe depression. I got her the help she needed, but now I’m shorthanded at the office. I’m sure there are others like her. It’s harder to retain and engage talent today. That includes us.”
We fell quiet. We knew this was the side-effect of our very lifestyles — at the least. It took me back to a Forbes article by Aaron Levy, published in 2017:
“ Our increased need for instant gratification — coupled with increased options and visibility to others’ success — drives Millennials to seek success, contribution and personal growth at a more rapid rate than other previous generations.”
The era of instant gratification has also led to a decrease in (what therapists call) “frustration tolerance.” This refers to an individual’s ability to handle upsetting situations and ambiguity, including learning to manage normal life issues — such as breakups, examinations and grades, layoffs, workplace expectations (2). When we lack frustration tolerance, even a moderate amount of sadness can push us over the edge — because we are lacking in the ability to self-soothe.
While over-parenting is a often blamed for this, the real blame, in my opinion, would still fall on our extensive access to technology, social media and information in all forms — information that we don’t even know what to do with.
I went back to office that evening, after our chai break, and thought about the times I wanted to jump ship because I found it rough — I was assigned to do things I never signed up for, I was anxious because I felt I wasn’t at par with other excelling peers out in the industry — and then I suddenly remembered a memorable conversation with my super boss, SV , at the airport while we sipped Heinekens near the boarding gates.
“How’re you doing?”, he asked.
It’s hard to avoid 60+ year old kindly eyes, especially when you know that good leaders are reason enough to stay.
A: “Not so good, it’s been stressful. I wanted to leave earlier last year, but I didn’t for some reason. Just pulled through — rather unhappily though.”
S: “When were you stressed out the most”
A: “When things got rough, I felt like there was too much on my plate. I feel like as much as I’m contributing, it’s not strategic inputs, it’s just execution — no free time from just doing things to take a step back and really think. I’m not seen as someone who’s bringing great value. I can’t say no because everything I’m asked to do somehow seems relevant. I felt abandoned though I wasn’t…” after a two minute rant and narrating specific stressful events. I drew a blank and looked at him for advise.
S: “You’re still here. If that’s not bringing value or seen as value, then what is? By the way, if you had left every time where things got tough, and because you were busy thinking about how you looked — instead of the team — then we’d have something to worry about. You did good. You didn’t bail. Now finish that pint, run along before boarding ends and talk to your boss — honestly.”
In hindsight — I realized this has always been the case:
I’ve signed up for professional opportunities that turn out to have a completely different shape and form in a few months — I think I can’t do it, but I manage, albeit with gritted teeth.
The ambiguity has only given a fertile ground for immense learning — I’ve explored fields I never saw myself in before — and they all help, no matter which new job or project I work on today. Unlike other hostile workplaces I’ve read or heard of, here I had a supervisor and a healthy workplace companionship. Even if they didn’t really resolve the issues I was facing, at least they listened.
Most importantly — when you stick around as long as you can, it pays in wonderful strong relationships. So think of your time working in an organisation as a PPF investment — the salary in hand may seem lesser at the moment, you think it’s outdated and you’d be tempted to pull-out, but the truth is that it always helps in the long-run (on a rainy day).