Confessions of an Intern: Workplace Rules that No One Tells You About


Confessions of an Intern: Workplace Rules that No One Tells You About

Illustration: Arati Gujar

The day before I was about to start work, I was intolerably excited. Sure, I was only going to be an intern, but I was still looking forward to being employed, earning my own money. I just hoped it wouldn’t turn into The Devil Wears Prada situation, with a monster of a boss. I was prepared for the same old stuff that I’d heard from my parents – nosy colleagues, tiresome worksheets, demanding but inspiring seniors, and long work hours.

And so, with few expectations, I arrived on my first day, an hour early. I wanted to be as radical with my ideas as Nike was with their Colin Kaepernick campaign. I had the energy and zeal of Ranveer Singh on steroids. And like Anup Jalota, I was dying to subscribe to a new way of life.

But imagine my shock when my first “big lesson” in workplace etiquette came from another insignificant intern: “You either go home with your lighter or live long enough to see it get stolen.” That’s when I realised that the rules written all over your office walls or the eager instructions sent out by HR in emails matter little. What you really need to get a hang of, are the unspoken rules framed by your colleagues – that’s the only workplace etiquette that matters.   

For instance, I learnt early on that there’s nothing that can impress your seniors like your office dabba. Not my Photoshop skills, not my sincerity, not even the fact that I am the first to get to work and the last to leave. As a result, I feel hungry an hour after lunch break and end up with about two chips remaining in a packet that I don’t even remember opening. And that Snickers bar? I’ll get one bite if I’m lucky. It’s the sort of corporate camaraderie that really leaves me surprised and my pockets with holes. What’s not to love?

The chair wars can get brutal. Colleagues often size up each other like they’re rival cartels.

In almost two months of internship, my noble colleagues have also taught me another important life lesson: If I believed that office chairs are public property, the prospects of my career will be forever dampened. Instead, the trick is to think of it as a significant other – one that supports you, completes you, and is exclusively designed for you. The ideal office behaviour is then reluctantly acknowledging that just about every empty chair you lay your eyes on is actually tattooed with someone else’s name. And as is the deal with soulmates, finding a chair for yourself will be nothing short of a complex task. “Forever alone” has a new meaning.

The chair wars can get brutal. Colleagues often size up each other like they’re rival cartels. As you can tell, it can take just one chair to disrupt the peace and harmony of an office.

But there is something that can get nastier that the kissa kursi kaa. And this is the one professional etiquette that is equal parts, mindblowing and infuriating: Using the office air-conditioner as your personal weapon. Don’t like someone? Take revenge by setting the AC temperature as its lowest and hide her sweatshirt. Want to passively take out your anger on a colleague who stole your chair? Switch off the AC and watch him sweat it out. Naturally if you can get your hands on the AC remote, you can rule over your office like Ganesh Gaitonde ruled over Gopalmath. But rest assured, this Game of Remotes isn’t easy: It requires a natural talent for mind games, a dedicated poker-face, and an incredible love for runny noses.

As the newly crowned champion, you’ve got nothing to lose unless you lose the office remote. Although, ironically, the hunt for it is the only time your office will work as a team. Now that I’ve mastered these rules, nothing can stop me from world domination – or at least, a good recommendation letter.