Office and interns

“4 hands

2 heads

and a secretary please.”

I submitted that request a month ago and (obviously) didn’t get any of the things I asked for.   Life’s spinning a little out of control nowadays. It’s mostly been crazy on the work front- new projects, new people in the team and some encouraging results of the hard work put in together. It’s been rewarding but tiring.  Not tiring enough for me to crib about it (yet). I prefer action- packed days to days spend twiddling my thumbs. It’s far better to work hard and crash at the end of the day than to sit at night and what you achieved.

When there is so much happening on the work front, it’s natural to have a post of a work-related aspect. (A fun-ner travel post will follow.) I have had a trainee with me for the last 3 months. A young girl with a pretty face and a soft voice, who chose to intern in my department, though she would have been better suited in another department.   She came through the recommendation of a senior. We weren’t certain if she would be suited to the department’s nature of work, but with the recommendation note being waved in front of our faces, we took her on.

I tend to be judgmental about students/interns who come via the “approach route”, but I try to keep my biases at bay. Students must be assessed as individuals. Their backgrounds/recommendation letters/ parental connections shouldn’t colour our judgment of them.

Engaging with the intern closely was an eye-opener in many ways.  Her student life and mine were poles apart.

I come from a regular middle class family and I learnt early on that life=hard work. It was something learnt simply by observation. The parents worked hard. Both held jobs where they worked honestly and diligently.  The home front was never neglected- I don’t remember a single day when I didn’t get a home-cooked packed lunch or when I didn’t get academic support or when either or both parents were not available when I needed them.  Our home was basic, but always warm and welcoming, neat and well-kept.  My grandparents were as hard working. My grandmother didn’t work outside the house, but there wasn’t a single thing she didn’t do in-house- from tossing up great meals, to stitching clothes, to turning waste into gorgeous decoration pieces, to knitting and embroidering….. My grandfather was a professor and spent his spare time writing books. Everyone in the family worked hard. There was no other way of doing things.

When as an adolescent I had phases of doing things “my way” -which essentially meant taking it easy and doing nothing- they didn’t last long. The parents were quick to give me a reality check.   Basic fundamentals of life were made clear and like everyone else in the family, I learnt to live by them.

This sweet talking, cute looking intern was quite different from any of the previous interns I had worked with; or for that matter, my memories of myself as an intern. Everyone at office arrived at their desks by 9, the intern would waltz in at 10. She would normally leave by 3:30-4:00.   She preferred to choose her work- field work in the dusty and dirty Gurgaon villages wasn’t nice, writing reports and compiling data got boring,  working on holidays for special events wasn’t possible and travelling even short distances without a car was out of the question. Tasks given would take forever to finish and they would be done half-heartedly. A big chunk of the day was spent chatting on BBM or taking calls. It soon came to a point when where wasn’t much work I could involve her in.

It was hard to understand how such a disconnect existed between her expressed aspirations and actions. On her first day at work she expressed her desire to be independent, to work as a profession and move out of the shadow of her dominating (very well connected and very rich) father. Her actions didn’t match her aspirations. A quick, subtle chat session of getting the work life in order didn’t help. I followed that up with several hints on pulling up her socks….and then a warning. I made her reporting system more stringent. None of that worked.  She heard me alright, but it didn’t hit her. She knew she wasn’t being honest to herself or the job, but somewhere inside she knew she always had her father to bail her out. The sad fact of life is that some things can we worked out with pots of money & the right connections.  Once children know that, it is unlikely that they will care much for values such as honestly, hard work, integrity.  The pots of money and connections will serve you well for some part of your life, but I doubt if they work in the long term.  She knew  the MBA seat she wanted could be bought. She knew she could get a job by pulling a few strings. Why then was there any need to work at all?

I usually enjoy working with interns and this is the first time I have been so disappointed by one.  Not just disappointed that she did not learn anything concrete or do anything substantial while she was with us, but disappointed that like her there are other young people being brought up on the wrong value system, taking away opportunities that other’s deserve and doing nothing with the opportunities they have grabbed.

5 thoughts on “Office and interns

  1. Hmmm… this is new to me as well… most people in India, esp interns are very enthusiastic about working and proving themselves… this happens abroad though.. people are quite particular about work-life balance and work is only a small part of life.. its interesting.

  2. She doesn’t seem to be serious. Its her life-phase of doing things ‘her way’. It’ll come to bite her bum soon and she’ll change. I believe every single person in the world realizes the importance of hard work at some time, even if it is on their death bed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve your problems. Its a lose-lose situation. Best for you to slowly suggest moving her to another department ‘to get a well-rounded experience’ 🙂

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