Corporate (Un)Culture

The email from the HR Business Partner came on a Friday morning. She wanted to meet Rajat to discuss something important. Rajat’s manager, Lokesh, hadn’t mentioned anything. So he was curious what it could be about. ‘Is it about the new HR Information System being implemented?’ Rajat wondered since he represented his division in that project.

The meeting was set for the afternoon. With a notepad and pen in his hand, Rajat walked up to the small meeting room at the other end of the floor and casually opened the door. As soon as he looked inside, he froze. Seated within were the HRBP, Lokesh, Head – IT, and Head – Ethics & Compliance—everyone looking up at him grimly. Lokesh had a laptop in front of him. Rajat’s body went cold like blood had drained out of it. ‘Am I being fired? What did I do? Have I offended someone? Did I cause a big loss? Are they downsizing?’

‘Take a seat, Rajat,’ Lokesh said in a low voice.

‘What happened, Lokesh?’

‘Rajat, are you not happy here?’

‘Of course, I am?’

‘Then, do you have a problem with the company’s culture?’

‘No, not at all? Why what happened?’

‘Alex has lodged a complaint against you.’

‘Wait, what? Why? We hardly interact! We’re not even in the same division! What did I do?’

‘Rajat, there’s no point being defensive. We have the evidence.’

Rajat lost any confidence that he was in the clear. ‘Evidence? What evidence could they have? Have I … no, we haven’t even met in a month or more! Have I been sleepwalking in office! Do I have alien hand syndrome or some such shit?’

While thoughts of possible misdemeanours were still racing through Rajat’s mind, Lokesh turned the laptop screen towards Rajat.

‘Look at this Rajat,’ Lokesh demanded.

Rajat saw the screen, but the blood rushing through his head made it impossible for him to focus on its contents. He shook his head to clear his vision. After about twenty seconds of staring at the screen, he could finally see what it was.

  • It was an email.
  • That he had sent.
  • To Alex.
  • Yesterday.
  • At 2 p.m.
  • With two words in it.
  • Thank.
  • You.

Looked innocuous enough. But what was he missing? ‘What am I missing? I must have fucked up real bad for this meeting to happen! There’s no offensive words. There’s no offensive attachments’—he checked, up and down, up and down, several times. ‘What was it, dammit?!’

After about two minutes of quiet but frantic scanning of the screen, Rajat finally looked up, first at Lokesh, then the others, searching their faces for some clue to his crime. All he found was four faces telling him ‘You’re so fucked, dude!’

Finally, gathering some courage, Rajat gulped and chokingly asked, ‘What is it, Lokesh?’

‘Rajat, remember at the Christmas party … what I had advised you? Why didn’t you listen to me, Rajat? You’re responsible for this.’

Rajat was furiously Googling his memory. ‘What the fuck had he said.’ He was too drunk to register anything of his boss’s monologue. Failing to recall anything, he looked at Lokesh helplessly.

‘You didn’t reply all!’

‘What?!’

‘Don’t act innocent, Rajat. You didn’t reply all to this email. Alex noticed!’

‘But what does that have to do with Alex?’

Lokesh sighed loudly and looked left and right at his fellow inquisitors.

‘Do I have to spell it out for you, Rajat?’

‘Umm …’

‘OK, fine. I will. I don’t know how I hired you!’ Lokesh was leaning forward with shoulders hunched. The HRBP gently touched Lokesh’s forearm. Lokesh leaned back into his chair and cleared his throat.

‘Alex is offended that you sent a private thank you instead of a public one. It comes across like you did not wish others to know about Alex’s good work. It looks manipulative and unethical.’ Lokesh looked at the Head of Compliance, who nodded vigorously. ‘Frankly, Rajat, we think Alex is right. What do you have to say about this?’

Rajat stared at Lokesh for a moment, then blurted out, ‘But … but I … but that was never my intention! I mean … it was just a thank you … why does everyone else in the mail string need to know that?!’ Rajat searched the faces in front of him for an answer, while the committee waited for him to continue.

Finally, Lokesh spoke. ‘See, Rajat, this is why I asked you to heed my advice. We are an old and prestigious organisation. We take pride in our corporate culture. And it is an important part of our culture to reply all. We believe it brings people together.’

‘But, Lokesh, I can understand replying to all when everyone is involved in the execution of a project or needs to have that piece of information to do their job well. How is a simple “thank you” going to improve their chances of meeting their goals?’

‘Are you now questioning the company’s culture? A tradition we’re so proud of? How can you be so uncultured and disrespectful, Rajat?’

‘No, no,’ Rajat sat up straight and waved his palms facing forward, ‘I just want to understand. I believe it is a waste of time of everyone else if I copy them in an email that has nothing to do with them. Their email inboxes will be inundated with hundreds, even thousands, of emails if everyone replies all to every email. What about the constant distraction? What about productivity? That will surely harm the value we deliver to our customers!’

‘Rajat, we’re a two-hundred-year-old company. Do you think we’ve survived this long by worrying about productivity and customer value?’

Rajat bucked his head back and gaped at Lokesh.

‘What about the additional cost of electricity and server space?’

Lokesh looked at the IT head, who gave a confident shrug.

‘So, I should do reply all irrespective of content and reason.’

‘Yes.’

‘What about “happy birthday”?’

‘Yes.’

‘“Will do”?’

Yes.

‘“OK”?’

Yes.

Rajat thought for a while gently massaging his chin with his fingers. Then he looked up at the HRBP and asked, ‘Is this rule mentioned anywhere in the employees’ manual?’

The HRBP rifled through her notebook and replied, ‘Yes, there’s a line on page 404 of the manual under the heading “General Considerations When Using Electronic Mail Features For Internal Communications”.’

Rajat hung his head down and held it in his hands.

Presently, he looked up and said, ‘OK, I’m really, really sorry about what I’ve done. I’m willing to personally apologise to Alex. I truly, honestly meant no disrespect.’

The panel members looked at each other. Then Lokesh said, ‘Fine. Since this is your first offence, we will just warn you to not repeat this ever again. But know that this is our first and last warning.’

‘Yes, yes, I’m sorry, yes, I’ll always reply all, henceforth. I’m sorry.’ Rajat had his palms joined and wagging up and down in prayer mode.

‘Good. So, please undo what you’ve done by once again replying to the same email. Alex has generously agreed that that should be enough to compensate for the pain and anguish you’ve caused.’

‘OK. Reply all?’

‘YES!’ yelled the committee in unison.

Published by Anupam Choudhury

I'm a writer, editor, and blogger from New Delhi, India.

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