Hear! Hear!

“We are not family! Let’s get paid properly!”

The motto of a fictional IT startup

In first episode of the Korean drama Because This Is My First Life, which has just finished on tvN Asia, the employees, the CTO who is the drama lead, and the CEO of the fictional company drink to them getting paid properly. At that moment, I also raised my glass and wholeheartedly shouted “hear! hear!” as I recalled a bad experience — and I thought another might be coming my way.

Of course, the words were meant to remind these colleagues that they were professionals and should be treated as such. Yet, rather cleverly and ironically, the words also summed up the anxiety of being in a small company or startup facing instability and uncertainty.

Financial hiccups in small companies — some say they are part of the charm of startups in early stages but that is another matter — are to be expected. I’ve had a fair share of such moments and didn’t mind them too much. Fortunately, I’ve almost always got a life buoy or a safety net in place — “don’t put all eggs in one basket,” says the famous quote. I’d also think that the people at the top would act in good faith, with fairness, and with the employees’ best interest at heart — I expected to be duly compensated later, of course. I was quite proud of the fact that my tolerance towards such hiccups was pretty high and that I’ve got a healthy dose of optimism. Most of the time.

Yet such tolerance and optimism have become increasingly difficult to uphold. It was not the hiccup per se, it was the lack of information and communication that was frustrating. A short note or message to keep me informed of the situation — so I could devise contingency plans — should suffice. But that was never offered and, since then, suspicions could no longer be contained. I began to think that the “we’re like family” sentiment had been used selectively to their advantage and rarely ours, and thus abused. The seed of distrust had been sown.

I’d list a number of possible reasons or excuses, questions and answers. I’ve even started mapping all options, including walking away for good. Has reading too much company thrillers (in which the employee, of whom a company tries to get rid, is cut off from all communication and ignored so that he feels isolated and incapacitated and thus leaves the company on his own will) if there were ever such genre influenced me? Perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been anticipating another hiccup and I can’t let speculations go wild in my head — doing guesswork is trying and tiring. The best course of action is to ask for explanation and pose those questions directly. I still think (and hope) we can talk through this confusion in a civilised manner.

Or, is such optimism misplaced? Again?

Getting back to the quote above, I’d like to propose a slight revision. “Whether we are family or not, let’s get paid properly!”

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