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A short story about bullying at work. “If you want to go home early, you need to be content to take a back seat at work. How can you even think of a promotion?”
Here is the fourth winner of our June 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Vanaja Shankar.
The cue was: “Once you stop worrying what the world will think of you, your life will become that much easier to live.” – Anita Nair, Ladies Coupe.
Rekha parked her scooter in the compound and ran up the stairs to the first floor of the twelve storey building and rang the doorbell. “Asha, I am so sorry I am late.” she apologised profusely as the door opened. She glanced at the wall clock that showed 7 pm and breathed deeply.
A tall thin woman with greying hair peered through her glasses with an annoyed expression. “This is the third time this week” her voice was icy as she moved to the left to let Rekha in.
The room was neat and clean, the children’s’ story books and play toys neatly stacked on the table.
Rekha ran to the child sitting on the sofa all alone, reading a book. The little girl’s eyes brightened on seeing her. She hugged the girl and kissed her forehead. She picked up the book, thrust it into the school bag, picked up the lunch bag, held the girl’s hand and walked out of the day care centre.
“I hope you will be here latest by 6.15 pm. Otherwise…” Asha paused. Rekha stopped and turned around.
“Otherwise I cannot take Divya into the day care centre from next month. You must understand that we cannot keep it open so late, every day.”
Rekha sighed as she started the scooter. Divya was quiet till they reached home.
Rekha hurried to the kitchen to prepare a quick dinner for Divya. Divya followed her to the kitchen.
“Mummy, where will I go after school from next month?”
“I will do something. Don’t worry” Rekha fought off the tears in her eyes.
For the next two hours, Rekha worked like a machine, preparing dinner for her and Arvind, sorting out clothes, getting things ready for the next day.
When Arvind came home at 11 pm, she was at breaking point.
“I can’t continue like this Arvind. Work at office is so hectic and I get late every day. I can’t handle it all alone.”
“I told you I am expecting a promotion this year. I need to focus on my career. Why don’t you get a stay at home help?” Arvind went back to his laptop.
Rekha was in tears. She had tried all possible options. He just did not understand her plight, her guilt.
The next day she told her branch manager Anuja firmly.
“I need to leave by 6pm. Daily. I have to pick up my child from the day care.”
Anuja was not sympathetic. “Rekha you are in charge of operations in this branch. You cannot shirk responsibility. You cannot fix timings like this.”
Rekha shook her head. “I don’t think that any of this work cannot wait till the next day morning. I will complete what I can during the day. I can’t stay back late.”
Anuja had a habit of dumping work on Rekha late in the evening. Her two sons were staying away in hostel so she was in no hurry to go home.
“What will our bosses think if we start going home early? They will think we are not serious about the job. You will be setting a bad example to the juniors.” Anuja believed that staying back late was a virtue.
“I don’t care what others think. I will do what is right. I don’t see the need to stay back late.” Rekha walked out.
Rekha felt her efficiency and productivity had increased after she started leaving office sharp at 6 p.m. She planned and organised her work flow, trained her team to take more responsibilities. For a week, she felt happy with herself.
“At least now you realised that your daughter is more important than your work.” Asha commented as she drove in at 6.10 pm to pick up Divya. She was happy to note that other parents were also just coming in. They nodded and smiled.
She felt happy to be acknowledged, to be one among them.
Anuja started making life difficult for her, taking away some people from her operations team, giving her more and more work that she could not complete in time, calling her up in the evening with some problem, making her feel guilty about leaving early.
The next month Anuja called Rekha to her cabin. “I want you to train Deepak in operations. He is due for promotion in two months and I want him as the operations manager. In the meantime, you can learn his sales job.”
Rekha was shocked. She had worked so hard for the past five years to bring this branch to this level. She was due for promotion and had hoped to become a Branch Manager. Deepak was fresh from college and had joined the Branch just six months back.
This move meant that she would not get her promotion, and that she would have to report to Deepak.
“I am expecting my promotion this year” Rekha said stiffly.
“I don’t think you can have it all. If you want to go home early, you need to be content to take a back seat at work. How can you even think of a promotion?” Anuja was at her toxic worst.
Rekha was depressed. She could not go to office the next day. She called in sick. She could hear Anuja smirking as she said sweetly ‘ok. Take care.”
Divya was delighted when she picked her up from play school but Rekha was in no mood to play with her.
Rekha called her mother and cried. Her mother, who had been an inspiration for her to study MBA, now seemed to have changed.
“I think you should quit the job Rekha. Your daughter is more important than anything else.”
There was good news in the evening. Arvind came home early and took them out for dinner.
“I have got my promotion.” He was in high spirits. “I am the Vice President of my company now.”
Rekha felt happy for him. “Congratulations Arvind. You deserve it. You have worked so hard.”
So had she. They were classmates in their MBA course and started out as management trainees in the Bank. They fell in love and got married. Within a month, Arvind jumped to a higher position in another bank. In the next three years, he had made two more moves. Last year he had joined this multinational company and within a year earned a double promotion.
Rekha’s growth was steady. She had been made a manager and then senior manager in the third year. She was considered a star performer. For the last two years, after Divya was born, and Anuja had come in as branch manager,
Rekha had continued as operations manager in the branch and had worked very efficiently.
“Rekha, you don’t have to work anymore. I will be earning three times my current salary. You can stay at home and take care of Divya.”
When Rekha announced her decision in office, Anuja could not hide her happiness.
“I think it is a great decision. You will be able to be with your daughter all the time.” She was dripping with sweetness.
Anuja accepted the resignation, approved it and sent it to head office with lightning speed.
Rekha felt torn inside. She had loved working in the bank, enjoyed guiding team members, serving customers. She was proud to manage her own finances, have an independent income, save for her daughter and also buy things that she wanted.
She knew being a homemaker was a full time job but she wondered if she would ever be good at it. She had never been too interested in cooking. Nor was she interested in arts and crafts or womanly chit chat with neighbours. She worried what she would do at home after Divya started going to school full time. And to be dependent on Arvind for money? The thought was frustrating.
“So, you are sacrificing your career, your dreams.” The Zonal Manager Mr.Santosh Narayanan had called Rekha for a meeting, to discuss her resignation. The Zonal office was very near her home.
“I have no other option Sir.” Rekha was in tears.
He was her first boss, the one to recognise her talent, guide her, promote her.
“What is the problem?”
“Sir, I have no one at home to take care of my daughter. I leave her in day care but I need to get back early to pick her up.”
“I suppose your branch manager has brought in the culture of staying late?”
“Yes sir. I have been completing my work in time and leaving early. However, I was told that I would not get my promotion this year. I can’t report to a junior.”
“Hmm.” He seemed to be lost in thought.
“So going home early is the only problem?”
“Yes. and not being given due recognition for my work.” Rekha was candid. She had nothing to lose.
“I am disappointed that you gave in so easily and resigned. You have worked with us for five years, contributed to the organisation. You should have presented alternatives, discussed options.”
“Sir, my branch manager expressed that seniors would not appreciate if we talk about going home early.”
“Rekha, you must be your best friend, speak for yourself, speak what is right.”
“What if you are offered a promotion, a job in zonal office and some flexibility in work timings?”
Rekha looked up, her face full of hope.
“We were working on a project – creating a policy for empowering women leaders, training programs for women to manage work and life, mentoring to plan their careers and upgrade their skills. Somehow, we were not able to make much progress, business development and other pressing problems demanding our time. When I saw your resignation letter, I knew that this policy was important to retain talented women in the workforce and support them through various options. I think you would be the best person to drive this project.”
“Thank you sir,” Rekha sat up, her head high.
“I hope this experience will help you understand and guide others. Many women like you worry too much about pleasing everyone.” The zonal head smiled.
“Once you stop worrying what the world will think of you, your life will become that much easier to live.”
“I understand sir.” Everyone had an opinion about how a woman should manage her home and work.
“I am sure you will make a difference to other women colleagues in this bank.”
Rekha was overwhelmed. It was not about her alone. It was about thousands of women across this huge organisation who were struggling with guilt, trying to please the boss in office and people at home, take care of their children and their career.
“By the way, how is Arvind? Rekha shared the good news.
“Oh. He is with Mr. Gupta! He is a workaholic and drives people crazy. You must take care of Arvind.”
Rekha wondered. “When was the last time she had seen Arvind smile? He needs her help too.”
Rekha smiled as she thought of Anuja’s reaction to her new role.
She called her mother on the way home to share her happiness.
“I didn’t know if it is right for you to take a promotion. Divya should be a priority”
“Mummy, don’t worry, I will manage.” Rekha was cheerful.
“But what about a second child? Your mom-in-law and I were discussing your resignation, that this is the right time.”
Rekha breathed in and smiled. “later mummy.”
She called Arvind at 8 p.m
“Rekha, I can’t talk now. I have something important at work” Arvind sound irritated.
“Can your work be done tomorrow?” Rekha was no more defensive.
There was a pause.
“I guess yes.”
“Then please come home now. There is something important I have to tell you.”
Rekha played with Divya. They laughed together.
Arvind was pleasantly surprised to see them laughing.
He smiled. “It is good to be home.”
Vanaja Shankar wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
Image source: confident working woman by Shutterstock.
Author of book, Hello Banker.
Founder, Trainer at Banxzu training and development solutions.
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