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Let me walk you through the work life of Riya. She teaches from home for an ed-tech company. Her work involves teaching competitive exam aspirants and creating content for them. When she joined the company, teaching for 4-5 hours a day and creating content for 2-3 lectures was the norm. Fortunately, that changed after three months when a(n) (in)famous ed-tech giant acquired the company. It was a relief because Riya had started experiencing severe backache in these three months owing to the long hours in front of the laptop. In this sense, her first experience with dignity at the workplace was tangibly physical.
While Riya’s colleagues are generally professional and well-spoken, they are also a product of the system. Texts and calls late after usual work hours or the pressure towards more lectures or content creation have been a feature of her job. It is a norm for the faculty to give sessions from 9-10:30 pm. Consequently, her work and personal life exist in a constant state of overlap. Despite these factors, her overall workload is much lower than that of her friends working in the corporate sector and her spouse teaching in a government institution. She is grateful for the flexibility offered by the reduced workload but struggles to build some habits because of the lack of a continuous work-hour block. She controls some of the negatives by setting boundaries, such as not taking calls on her weekly off days and requesting the schedule of the night classes well in advance. Thus, she reclaims some dignity in a chaotic scenario through choice and control. However, she recognises that not every person in the labour force has this privilege.
Riya is a well-liked teacher. Her students compliment her teaching ability in the lectures and leave loving comments below her open YouTube lectures. These make her feel validated and provide meaning to her work. At the same time, her organisation gives her monthly/quarterly targets for the number of views and likes on her YouTube lectures and the Net Promoter Score (NPS). These are the deciders of her growth in the organisation. She dislikes this reduction of teaching to ‘views and likes’ as it promotes clickbait, ‘theatrical teaching’, and videos that capitalise on student fear. In her supervisor’s words, NPS “is meant to fail, which adds to its usefulness”. As per this measure, anyone who rates a faculty’s teaching below 9/10 contributes to reducing the faculty’s NPS. She often receives emails from her supervisor regarding her low NPS and wonders why organisations set employees up for failure every month. You can find Riya online at night, checking the views and likes on her YouTube sessions or talking to her friend, despairing over her low NPS. Her dignity, or lack thereof at the workplace, is inextricably linked to feeling acknowledged, not compromising her principles, and not being reduced to a metric.
Recently, many allegations against the company regarding duping students’ parents came to the fore. The country’s Women and Child Welfare Department even summoned the founder for an explanation. In addition, as the company had been experiencing losses, it laid off around 4000 employees. Three of these laid-off employees were Riya’s fellow faculty members. These developments made her feel as if, by being a part of the organisation, she was also party to a systematised corporate crime perpetrated by her company and many other giants worldwide on consumers and employees alike. Sure, she is on a permanent payroll with the attendant leaves and benefits. But she wonders how “permanent” things really are and at what cost this “permanence” comes in the corporate system. For Riya, dignity is thus not merely individual. It is an affiliative and a class phenomenon. She associates her dignity with that of her company, colleagues, and her services’ ultimate consumers.
Riya’s supervisor patiently listens to her. He tries to allay some of her concerns by informing her that some allegations against the company regarding accounting discrepancies have been misrepresented. He further states that the company will be profitable in the coming months. She pushes these issues to the back of her mind for her mental peace and teaches as honestly as possible every day. She actively offers suggestions for pedagogical improvement, and her supervisor is receptive to her ideas. When she needs a break from the tightrope of her work, she avails her assigned leaves and takes a trip with her spouse. Therefore, her dignity is as much mental and moral as affected by the organisational hierarchy and policies.
Every day Riya traverses the many dimensions of dignity at her workplace – the quintessentially organisational, the physical and mental, the individual and communal, and the material and moral. Some days end in satisfaction, some in dissonance. Most are a mix of both. She is happy to have the companionship of her affirmations and her plants. They make her feel whole and enough. In the end, she hopes to come out worthy – as a teacher and as a human. I wish her the very best.
This post is anonymous as the author does not wish to disclose their identity.