"Why so serious?" I asked my usually glum looking colleague who was sitting with such a morose look on his face that it looked like he had just got word that the world was about to end and he hadn’t completed even one of his top 100 things to do before he moves to a better place (Neil’s note: Here better place refers to the other world and not another company as many of you would expect). All I got in return was a blank stare. “Come on, cheer up. Didn’t you see the latest email on the hikes that have been announced? Looks like we will get a 14% hike this time! This calls for a mini celebration, let’s go grab some tea” I said, trying to infuse some semblance of happiness into the still way down in the dumps colleague of mine.
“So why the long face?”
“Because I did”
“Because you did what? And don’t you know youre not supposed to start a sentence with because? Didn’t you pay attention to your English teachers?”
“But you did”
“Start a sentence with because”
“Start a sentence with because?”
“I didn’t start a sentence with because, you did”
“Of course not. But why did you start a sentence with because? I thought you paid attention to your English teachers”
Suddenly it felt as if the room was spinning around me at an extremely dizzy pace and I tried to get back to the matter at hand. “So aren’t you happy about the pay hikes?” I asked wondering to myself why I had asked such a question when the answer was pretty obvious. “Of course not” he replied with a steady firmness that was more than a little worrying. “But why?” I asked with more than a hint of incredulousness in my voice.
“Its my HIIKES (pronounced hi-i-ke) theory, one that no one has been able to dispute. HIIKES stands for Hopelessly Inadequate Increments to Keep Employees Satisfied. “
I wondered what was so inadequate about the hike, after all a 14% hike did seem to be quite substantial. Add to that the fact that not many this was the only company that deemed me to be employable, it seemed more than generous.
“You see, as an employee you always lose. First the company gives you a hike and you happily think you are going to get more money. Unfortunately the fact that you are getting a hike is not a secret. The government is obviously out to ensure that you don’t earn too much and further widen the gap between the haves, the have a little but think they are the Indian middle class and the have not’s. So the government goes ahead and increases petrol and diesel prices by a percentage higher than what corporate India is giving its employees. This in turn makes food and all other products that get transported by road more expensive. Not only does it cost you more to reach your local supermarket, the prices on just about everything have gone up as well. Double whammy! So you earn more but you have to spend even more to maintain your same lifestyle …..”
And then there was silence. It took me a few minutes to digest what was explained to me. It seemed so simple and yet so blatantly wrong. There obviously was something faulty with his theory and I was determined to find out what it was.
“So the government makes more money on taxes? That’s it? It’s all about the money?” I asked as I started to make some sense of the entire situation. “Of course not, it’s about the numbers as well” he replied which had me hurtling down the path of confusion even faster.
“It’s a win-win situation for the government. They raise petrol prices and rake in the moolah. And if you think about it, the only way out of this predicament as an employee is if you slog so hard that you perform exceptionally well & get a higher pay hike than everyone else. Now since everyone is working extra hard, this means that the output of our industries is shooting up and more trade means better numbers for government statisticians who don’t have to resort to high levels of fudging to make you feel good. So you read your newspaper and feel proud when in reality for every step the country takes forward in terms of GDP and other 3 letter acronyms no one understands, you have taken two steps backwards with your family and loved ones as you try and outdo everyone else by working harder and harder.”
This time the silence was prolonged as things slowly began to sink in. Since it took me so long to understand and accept the problem, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to figure out a solution within a reasonable timeframe. “So what’s the way out?” I asked. “There isn’t any. Either you keep working harder and harder to make more money but give up all hopes of seeing you family for days together or be the family guy and stop running the rat race.”
And then it struck me, the answer to the problems of all employees in corporate India. “Jump!” I exclaimed. “What? Why?”. “No, no, don’t jump now. I meant jump from one company to the other. Get a substantial payhike in the process and I guarantee that you will be able to make enough to overcome the hikes in prices for everything else and hence make more money. Am I right or am I right?” I asked as I sat back with a triumphant grin on my face.
“You’re right. And wrong.” Said my fried as he slumped further into despair. “You see, if you shift companies once you would be able to beat the price rise for a while. But jump a second time and you will definitely move into the upper tax bracket which means you pay more taxes…..”
Dejectedly I threw in the towel. If someone would have told me earlier that the more I earned, the poorer I would become, I would’ve laughed and said that he was off his rockers. But it is true. Feeling down and out, I resigned myself to my fate and stared gloomily at my laptop for what seemed to be an eternity. That was until another colleague of mine cheerily came up to me and asked “Didn’t you get the email on the pay hikes? Why so serious?”