Throughout my career thus far, I have been always fascinated by the extensive similarities between many of the social events (more so in the context of the Indian culture) and career events. In fact, these events not only match on the face, they also have a common spirit behind. Is it because of this that organizations largely mirror the societies in which they operate? May be, yes.
Human behaviors are essentially embedded in the cultural, socioeconomic, and educational aspects of the upbringing till we reach the adulthood. We carry our behavioral frames wherever we work and, since the work-life is a subset of our existence, we knowingly or inadvertently, end up using these behavioral frames in work-life. This use of the behavioral frames creates a great resemblance between the social events and career events.
Let us look at some of the career events and corresponding social events.
Event 1 - Joining of an employee:
When a child is born, the happiness quotient of parents zooms. It is like the arrival of an angel in their lives. Isn't it true? And everyone's attention is now on the child and her well being. The kid cries and the mother immediately laps her up. The child falls sick and the parents run to the doctor in the midnight. The child starts speaking 'Mumma ' and 'Daddy' and the couple finally realizes that they are now parents. Grandparents too are elated to see a cute baby joining them.
Largely comparable here is joining of a new employee. Everyone in the HR Department and the concerned Function feels good and turn attention to her. It may be even feeling of an 'angle' coming if the position is critical or she has joined after a lot of persuasion. The HR Supervisor helps her settle down in the 'new world' and the Functional Supervisor attends to her learning needs. When she falls sick, the HR Supervisor makes sure to call up and inquire about health and any help, if needed. If she appears lost, the HR Supervisor discusses with her & the Functional Supervisor and settles the issue.
Event 2 - Confirmation:
Though the nuclear family trend is on a rise in India, the mother-in-law is still the 'immediate supervisor' of the daughter-in-law. The elder lady keeps a close watch on the 'performance' of the younger one, scolds her in case of deviations, and teaches her the Dos & Don'ts of the family. When the elder lady is reasonably satisfied, she hands over the bunch of keys (including house key and the key of the main cupboard) to the younger lady (in fact, the scene of a mother-in-law handing over the keys to the daughter-in-law was common in many old Hindi movies). Philosophically, handing over of keys symbolizes the transfer of trust and means that the daughter-in-law has adopted the family's culture well and now she can be 'trusted' for running of the house & managing family affairs.
In most Indian organizations, an employee goes through a training or probation period of one year. At the end of one year, her performance is assessed by her Functional Supervisor and the HR Supervisor and she is confirmed in the services. She is granted a confirmation letter to mark the satisfactory completion of her training or probation period. This letter is akin to the 'transfer of trust' and it signifies that she has adapted well to the organization's culture and now can be 'trusted' for her abilities to learn, to deliver performance, and to be on her own feet.
Event 3 - Managerial promotion:
Having reached a suitable age and gained needed maturity, a man and woman find marital compatibility and in most cases, they get married with their families' consent. A wedding is an event cheered by one-and-all and brings along a big change in the role of the groom and the bride. It is believed or rather assumed that both are competent enough to manage their own affairs as well as the expectations of their families, friends, and other social circles.
Having spent a certain period in one hierarchical grade, having shown better performance consistently, and having displayed the called-for maturity, an employee is evaluated for her abilities to handle responsibilities in the higher grade. When she is finally promoted to the next grade, it entails that the management has found her competent enough to handle not only higher responsibilities, but also manage other employees and coordinate with colleagues across functions.
Event 4 - Leadership elevation:
When a son becomes a parent, his father & mother become grandparents. What do grandparents do? They partake in the matters they're passionate about with the newborn, see the world in a new way through younger eyes, relive childhood, provide expanded support for the younger one, use their experience to avoid the pitfalls, and provide inputs that parents cannot. Being grandparents is about influencing, moderating, guiding even when not asked for, and above all being visionary & large-hearted.
An employee who has been assigned the leadership position in the organization can learn a lot from what grandparents do. Overindulgence by grandparents in the personal lives of the son and daughter-in-law is an unhealthy practice. Similarly, overindulgence in the way immediate reports work and micromanaging, both are detrimental to interpersonal relations, performance of the reports, and the work environ. Instead, great leaders focus on spotting & developing the young talent, developing a vision, showing the initial path for the team, providing inputs & guidance when the direct reports ask for, creating or conserving a healthy work environ wherein the young talent can shine, being eager to learn from the Gen X, and being large-hearted with a strong-head-above-the-shoulder.
Event 5 - Separation:
When the spouses find that they are no more compatible and all options of reconciliation have been closed, they decide to separate by mutual consent or at times with acrimony. Mutual consent is a mark of maturity individually as well as jointly, and owning-up of the decision. During and post the separation, irrespective of its mode, the relevant legal and social formalities are carried out.
Likewise, when a good employee resigns for the want of compatibility, the Functional Supervisor and HR Supervisor explore the possibility of her retention. When they find that there is no mutually inclusive interest, they decide to accept her decision. This is like a divorce by mutual consent, though accompanied by a great deal of heartburn. If the Functional Supervisor and the employee had unhealthy work-relations, then the separation process could become acrimonious.
Event 6 - Re-employment:
In quite a few instances, the couple after divorce realize that it was an avoidable error. However, their egos do not allow them to open up. But then there are good friends who mediate and make them talk. The couple discusses, cleanses the past, and decides to begin afresh. The key conditions for a sustainable reunification are being large-hearted and willingness to forgive.
Subsequent to the formal separation, the organization or the employee or both, realize that they could have worked out a mutually acceptable solution for continuing the relationship. However, the organization has a larger ego and hence resists the temptation to contact the employee. But then there are good HR & Functional Supervisors who understand the ego tussle and help strike a reconciliation. Ditto conditions of being large-hearted and willingness to forgive apply here as well.
The final word:
If only HR professionals understand various social events better and the embedded logic, they can build a repertoire of sound experiential knowledge that can help them comprehend the issues surrounding various events of an employee's work-life better.
The key qualities needed for interpreting the social events are empathy and an ability to decipher in the backdrop of the societal culture, which the HR professionals must possess.
While HR professionals surely learn from management books and other literature, the social events embedded in the culture are equally a great teacher.