Servility as Laziness: the Indolence of the Disengaged Worker

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June 5, 2013 by michaelchanrubio

Sometimes, it’s just fear.

The employee is simply afraid of saying the wrong thing, of not being respectful enough. This is why the employee is all to ready to call nearly anyone in the office, even if only because the other person is older than he is, the title “Sir.”

But this fear isn’t just the crippling thing that seizes the mind and turns to panic, compromising the employee’s decision-making. Calling nearly everyone “Sir” or “Ma’am” is too, a display of laziness.

I am Filipino working in the Philippines, and this is a reality I wade through. Peers who, because I don’t get to work with them often or have little familiarity with me, are too ready to call me “Sir,” (I am often older than they are).

There will be those who are way too ready to defend the Filipino National Character™  and call this the inherent respectfulness of the Filipino people. I don’t buy it. I was raised in a traditional Filipino household with a traditional Filipino upbringing surrounded by a large extended family speaking Tagalog as a primary language. Sound familiar? Good. I believe that I was raised with as much, if not more, traditional Filipino family values as the people I find remarkable here (most Filipino employees).

I am not speaking about being respectful. One can be very respectful (and formal, even) in the English language without resorting to Western titular honorifics. But very few are willing to learn how! Learning how means simply to unlearn some misappropriated habits.

When some employee or service provider or salesperson is calling me “Sir” over and over, especially if I had already specifically indicated how I wished to be addressed (“Mike”), then that person is being disrespectful (disobedient, insubordinate, or rude). That employee is too lazy to listen, to ask to clarify, to make the effort to address me the way I wish to be addressed.

Maybe he expects other people to call him “Sir” when he’s in a fast food joint, or when he’s with his co-workers. Maybe.

If the employee is truly engaged, that is, he is invested to learn what works best, to do what works best, then he wouldn’t have to persist with this behavior. An engaged employee is not necessarily servile. He gets things done as they are needed, without the showy “respect” displayed.

Perhaps culturally, damned if I know, servility is valued as a good employee trait — a legacy of authoritarian organizations. I’ve worked in government too and oh boy, this is the norm: low level bureaucrats being treated like (en)titled superiors. I will no longer comment on the inherent fear displayed towards (white) foreigner colleagues.

Now I won’t go as far as to say that this is some kind of disease in the Filipino employee. But I do what I can not to get swept up by the hype describing us as some kind of super-employee. I find a a whole lot of us are disengaged by our jobs, our roles, our careers. But we play the game of servility, that if we keep our heads down, we can get by (and somehow magically deserve all the credit, praise, and the annual raise).

More commentary on Philippine society in Get Real Philippines. Relevant examples to workforce issues here, and here.

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