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The Workplace Paradox

The reality is that early workplaces were never designed to unleash human potential. They were designed to bind humans inside and they served more of a purpose of taking away freedoms and impose certain laws which were designed as ‘policies’.

These workplaces took inspiration for old palaces and castles which were bound by strict norms for anyone who lived or worked in them. The punishment in those days was normal life and limb for non-conformance. The punishment nowadays is not very different, as losing your job is often equated with the loss of life or limb.

Some workplaces were designed even further to constantly question human potential wherein everyday people were expected to prove why they should still be employed. These were toxic places wherein workplace bullying and indeed abuse were more the norm than a once-off incident.

Whenever I have been called upon as an HR professional to unleash human potential, I’ve always questioned the workplace practices first.

For example the wearing of uniforms or attire. How can a company expect innovation when its employees are expected to conform every single day by even what they wear to the office? Expecting innovation and creativity while imposing these levels of conformance can be an exercise in futility indeed.

The other issue was that of those who implemented these practices. Many of them sought control over everything else. Almost like a Monarch chose control over his subjects and was constantly suspicious of dissent of any kind.

All this began to change with the advent of the IT and the BPO industry in India. Suddenly companies realized that these high tech-oriented and savvy people had choices. So, they began the practice of first treating them well. Companies soon realised that these young people did not care for restrictive practices and the ‘old’ ways. So this began the change of workplaces from the old ‘boxed in’ approach to the more ‘hotel’ or ‘restaurant’ decors. Most service companies hired and trained managers to practice inclusion instead of a command and control method. More engineers preferred to join these IT companies as they did not want to be with organizations from other industries who practiced the old ways. 

There were various reasons for this. Some companies that had plants in remote locations had rules that even took away individual freedom. They had policies that forbade employees from leaving town even during weekends without written permission from the Unit Head!

Young engineers loathed these kinds of rules and this began the huge fight for talent amongst the other industries.

Slowly the mindset began to change. Some companies, especially in the core and mature groups saw the writing on the wall and made some really admirable changes. Those that did, began to win the war for talent. Those that didn’t, lost it in a big way.

Today, however, a huge mindset change is staring at us as we work from home. With tech aiding us, many are questioning the need to even have workplaces in the first place. The thought process has begun. As usual, IT companies are some of the first to bell the cat and announce permanent work from home policies. Educational institutions And some forward-thinking Diversified groups have already made some announcements. The rest is also now slowly joining in the bandwagon. It’s left to see what the other companies will do. Let’s wait and watch.


Author – Shantanu Dhar, Executive Director, Worc Consultancy Pvt. Ltd.

Shantanu Dhar is an HR leader with 25 years of HR experience in the US, Europe, and India. He has been a CHRO since 2012 and is now an Executive Director with Worc, an HR services company with operations in the US and India. Having worked with companies like Wal Mart Stores in the US, ITC LTD, HCL, Mercer, Dalmia Bharat, etc, he is also a bestselling author who has written India’s first vampire trilogy. Outside work, he spends time in fitness pursuits, cooking for his family, and listening to his Jazz collection at a volume which his neighbors have a few things to say about.


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