Friday, February 16, 2007

Office cafeteria – Coffee, Conversations & more

The office cafeteria is an interesting place to be. It is a melting pot of employees from different departments, different teams & different groups. Between sips of refreshing hot coffee, the discussions and the camaraderie on display tells a lot about the organization, its people & how the day’s been for them.

One of the most visible aspects of the cafeteria is how people gather around & seat themselves. Things to note here are who sits with whom. Most times people from the same team sit together. If it’s a large team they break into smaller groups. It is likely that one group is all male & the other all female. In such a scenario, there is a high possibility of one of the guys to be two timing both the male table & the female table. Then there are these ‘couple only’ tables, where a guy & a girl sit across & talk not realizing probably that ‘they’ are being talked of in the other tables.

The other aspect of the cafeteria is what people do out there. Most talk, some sulk, a few of them come to check out the other crowd there. Those who sulk keep staring into their coffee cup probably trying to count the hole like depressions into the froth of their coffee. Those who come to check out the others, position themselves in strategic locations in the cafeteria from where they could get a glimpse of anyone sitting at any table. They generally hold their mobile phone in one hand & the coffee cup in the other & act like they are busy reading or sending a message it actually seems more like by-hearting the numbers & the spellings in the names. And then the it-moment comes when they lift the coffee cup to have a sip & simultaneously scan the scene around in the cafeteria. Some do this with such style & elegance that you think you are watching a Hollywood movie.

Of course the conversations in the cafeteria take the cake when compared to all the other aspects. Conversations could be about anything. Be it news from the newspapers, be it the discussion on the day’s work, or be it plain gossip they all bring the cafeteria alive. Even if someone isn’t the kind who would initiate a conversation, he surely will get drawn into it. Some of the interesting cafeteria conversations I have been involved in were nicknaming some of the senior people or on a serious side, a discussion on what our company should do to cut down attrition. Once we debated a topic like, “Recruiters don’t have to use their mind to do their work”. Somewhere in the middle of all these conversations some one liners that registered & I could recollect is “Management sucks” & “God should not make Guys fair (appearance wise)”.

Cafeteria = Coffee, Carefree, Casual, Comic, Come-when-you-want-go-when-you-want…well almost.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Meeting People

When I ask candidates who want to kick start their career as a HR person, “Why they chose the HR stream”, the answer I get most times is “I like meeting people”. Sometimes they also say “I am a people’s person” or “I like talking to people”. Either which way it means the same. Although being a people’s person is an important trait for any HR professional, that alone is not sufficient & should not be reason enough for someone to take up the HR line. I ask them why not Marketing or Sales or Market Research or PR or Advertising or even something like Media. Don’t these streams also require the “people’s person” trait?

Also, the one important thing that most people don’t understand is that as a HR person you are not meeting “people” in the real sense but you are meeting “colleagues” or “employees” & if you are Recruiter then you are meeting “candidates” or “job seekers”. I suppose “colleagues”, “employees”, “candidates” and “job seekers” are not the same as “people”. If one really wanted to meet people, I feel one should join a club - may be an entertainment club or a photography or public speaking club like Toastmasters.

That said, I must say that as a HR professional one actually has a fair chance to get to know people, albeit limitedly. It’s obviously not possible to get to know them completely but it does give you that opening to set the ball rolling in terms of knowing them. For example when you are in an interview a question like, “Where are you from?” can create that opening to know the person. Recently I met this candidate & I asked him the same thing. His answer, “Port Blair” registered really well. Later when he got through the interview & joined the company, “Port Blair” became a conversation piece in the cafeteria over a cup of coffee. Another candidate was from Honnavar & I got talking to him about that place & the means of travel available to get there.

In the course of interviews you also get to know some little secrets about the person that wouldn’t be shared under ordinary circumstances with a stranger. There was this candidate I met a few days back who told me what kind of an impact her personal decision is having on her career. Being a Muslim, she married a Hindu and the company that she works for comprised of a management team that was predominantly Muslims. This personal decision of hers had set the tongues wagging & she had begun to fear that she would see no growth and hikes there.

On another day, I met a lady who said that she was going through marital problems and was in the process of getting a divorce from her husband. When I asked her why she did not work for a particular period after her marriage, she said her husband did not like the idea of her stepping out of the house. This attitude and approach from a guy who is supposed to be an actor was shocking & unbelievable.

In another instance, I met a candidate who for some reason didn’t look normal enough to me. Nevertheless we proceeded with the interview in the normal fashion. When I asked her why she is considering leaving the present company she told me that she was “Male till sometime back” and that she had recently undergone a sex change operation to become a female. This decision of hers was causing a lot of uneasiness with her present employers and as a result she wanted to move out.

I never probed these issues further, my job was to check the suitability of the candidate for a particular job and I did just that.

My own emotions & feelings on these issues make me pause and think about it & question if it is right or wrong, do I accept it, would I do something like this & so on. Some times these short sessions of “meeting people” teaches you something, makes you realize something & sometimes it just leaves you blank.

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